The 90 minute session

‘…there must be more than this provincial life…’

When Anna offered me a longer session, it was to make up for the fact that she’d had to cancel our mid week session and as we are unable to meet at our usual time the following week there is going to be a ten day gap. I was actually really surprised she’d offered it to me because initially she’d just sent the message saying she was sorry but the session needed to be cancelled. I’d been unable to reply immediately and within half an hour she sent another message offering the 90 minute session. At the time of receiving the message I was feeling good, strong, I felt secure and happy to have the offer and safe enough to turn it down. I thought I’d be fine sticking to the one hour block. Then I thought a bit more about it and talked to a few people about what I feared would happen if I had a longer session. Would I get too deep into stuff? Would the session drag and I’d struggle to know what to say? I finally realised that Anna was offering me something I’d always wanted, so I asked if it was still available… thankfully it was.

So, I had my 90 minute session yesterday… something quite interesting shifted in me. I wasn’t as nervous or anxious as I usually am just before the session. I actually felt relaxed. I didn’t feel under pressure to hurry up and make the session progress quickly. The extra time really helped me relax and go with it. We started by talking about the dream I had a few days ago of the two neglected, forgotten children. We really looked closely at it and what it all means to me. Anna was intrigued by the dream, her face lit up when I got the bit when I turned around and noticed these two children standing behind me and she was delighted when I got to the end of the dream and told her I believed those two children were me. She seemed really pleased with my insight. We looked at the significance of the children, that the boy and girl represent different parts of me. She asked what they looked like and how old they were. When I told her they were roughly the same age, both 7, she asked me if I could find a reason why that might be. I talked about the things that were happening at that time in my life. That we’d just moved house, my life had changed beyond recognition. Life had been fairly carefree and happy for the previous two years (a somewhat idyllic existence sandwiched between years of neglectful darkness). When we moved house, suddenly it all changed. Anna inquired, ‘would it be right to say that this was the age you lost yourself?’ There was a quiet moment when we were looking at each other, a bit of a stunned silence and then simultaneously we said, ‘the age I (you) lost my (your) childhood.’ This felt like quite a revelation… I know that seems like a total hyperbole but it really did feel like a mind blowing realisation. That was the age I lost myself, lost my childhood. Oh god that’s painful, to really let that sink in. That poor little seven year old girl who was so full of energy and hope and vitality and creativity and wonder. Suddenly she had to grow up and whitewash her colours and dilute her energy and focus herself on meeting other people’s needs. We stayed with this for quite a bit. Anna and I sitting in that quiet room together, listening to the heater click off as it reached temperature then click back on again. I spent a lot of time staring at the plug socket then back at her. She asked if that felt accurate for me and I slowly nodded. The painful, heavy burden I carried. The overwhelming aloneness. We talked about significant moments in my life when my parents abandoned me physically and the consequences of their neglect. How frightening it was to be left on my own. The pressure of having to look after my little brother. Having to be a mini grown up. Being involved in adult conversations, keeping secrets… it should never have been that way. Anna noticed that the way I was talking about the children in my dream was different to the way I have talked about my child parts before, she said, ‘that’s new, that self compassion… the way you’re speaking, that you are able to see that you deserved to be looked after and cared for… it’s heartwarming to hear you talk with such compassion for yourself.’

Having a longer session really helped to reduce my overthinking and the need to control and plan everything. Knowing we had a little more time seemed to allow space for more flexibility and spontaneity. Whereas before I would carefully consider what I would bring up, constantly watching the time or asking how long we had left, this time the conversation flowed more naturally. We meandered through a few different topics that I’d previously avoided because it never felt like the right time or I never felt strong enough to fully enter into it. The theme of neglect and being left and abandoned was threaded through each memory shared.

I said, ‘another time I really felt abandoned, probably the hardest of all, was when my dad left.’ I described to Anna that it felt like I was drowning and just at the point of slipping under the surface, he turned his back on me and walked away. Slowly but surely he reduced the contact we’d agreed so that I hardly heard from him. I missed him so much, it felt unbearable without him. I reminded Anna of the time I’d tried to tell my dad how much I was struggling and he completely ignored my request for help. She said, ‘that must have felt devastating.’ It was starting to feel just like words and my head was a bit fuzzy. I could feel the dissociation starting, the disconnect, I’m much better at noticing it now. I asked her to repeat something she’d said because I forgot what we were talking about and then realised I needed to work on grounding so I put both my feet on the ground and brought the candle to my nose to smell it. I rested my hand on the heater to feel the warmth and slowly my body and mind began to marry up again.

Anna reminded me what we were talking about and I continued, ‘I felt safer when my dad was living with us… after he left I didn’t feel safe anymore.’ Anna asked me what the safety of my dad felt like and I said he had been like a barrier between me and my mum. Though she was always nasty to me, she was also nasty to him. With him gone, she no longer had him as a focus for her hatred, I received every last drop of her poison. I said, ‘Also, without my dad around, she’d let people in the house and in our lives we’d never have been exposed to before. When we were growing up she had these weird strict values that she lived by, she was really judgemental of people and looked down on anyone who didn’t fit into what she thought was the right type of person. But after dad left it’s like she completely lost all of that. She started associating with people she would never have looked twice at before. There were times when people I had never met before were in our ‘home’ and then she would pass out drunk and it would be down to me to protect my brother and me… not very well… from these people…’

I sat on the floor, feeling a bit overwhelmed with the memories. I put my head in my hands and slowed my breathing as my heart raced. ‘It was the worst year of my life…’ I said to Anna and I looked up at her as she nodded, full of emotion for me. I said, ‘so many horrible things happened and… I don’t think she has an awareness of how other people can feel things that she’s not feeling, like if she is okay then we must all be okay… I would try to tell her things and she’d completely dismiss it…’ I told Anna that by the end of the year I was feeling completely hopeless. I’d failed my exams that year, I was becoming more and more isolated from my friends… I had very little to live for.

The first Christmas without my dad, my mother had gave us an ultimatum. Basically we had to ‘choose’ to spend the day with her and her boyfriend. My brother seemed to adjust to this really well but I could no longer bear it. Anna said she believes my bother coped so well because he always had me protecting him, he was largely unaware of everything that was going on… I was the barrier for him. That Christmas day was utter hell. After getting through the day I stood at the kitchen window and watched my mum, her boyfriend and my brother build a snowman in the heaviest snow we’d had for years. I felt so alone and desperate. After an unanswered phone call to my dad, I decided to follow through with a plan I’d carefully thought through for months. I raided my mums medicine box and took every type of pill I could find. I laid them all out on my bed and took them along with my mums vodka. Handfuls of pills gulped down. I remember that moment so clearly sitting there – vodka burning my throat. By that point I was completely numb. Sitting on the floor across from Anna saying the words out loud to her was surreal. She made a noise that broke my heart, like it was painful for her to hear me recount the suicide attempt. I told her that within minutes I was vomiting in the toilet, that I assume my system couldn’t handle that much vodka all at once. Anna asked me if my mum ever found out and I told her no. she asked if I ever told my husband and I shook my head. She said, ‘I’m so glad you’re telling me now. I can imagine it took a lot of courage to tell me, I know this is not easy….’ She asked me what I’d hoped would happen and I said, ‘I wanted it to end!’ She asked what ‘it’ meant to me and I said, ‘my life as it was… I wanted what my life was to end’ Anna said, ‘in the nicest possible way, I’m so glad you were sick… I’m so glad you’re here… I’m glad you’re sitting here with me, telling me this… you were so lucky!’ I felt a twinge of shame as she said that, I think it’s the part of me that always feels like I’m not going to be believed. Does she think ‘so lucky in fact that its likely not true…?’ I let those doubts and shameful fears slide and tried to focus on the compassion on her face. I’m so glad you’re here. Although I know this is all fairly standard therapy chat, I felt every word was genuine and heartfelt. I know she meant it. I said, ‘I’m glad I’m here too, now.’

In a very slow and gentle tone Anna said, ‘if you were able to send a message back to that girl what would you say to her?’ I sat for ages thinking and could only manage, ‘that it gets better…’ she made a ‘mmm’ noise and nodded. After a bit of quiet time she said, ‘anything else?’ I said, ‘it’s not your fault.’ Her voice firmed up and she said, ‘absolutely! It is not your fault. Lucy, IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! None of it. Do you believe that?’ I said that logically of course it wasn’t my fault, how could it have been? But there’s a small part still hanging on to the false sense of control that taking the blame affords me. She said she understood.

A bit later I was sitting back up on my chair and asking her to come and sit next to me. I wanted to feel the close connection that sitting right next to her gives me. I actually wanted her to touch me, like her hand on my arm or something… I still can’t cry about childhood stuff with her and even though it wasn’t expressed physically, I felt the crying inside and wanted to be physically comforted. But just asking her to sit next to me is massive so I left it there for now. Anna was telling me how much progress she’s noticed since we started working together. She said I am now far more able to share memories with her than I was before. She said I wouldn’t go near that kind of vulnerability a few months ago, that it was all drenched in too much shame. She said she was proud of me and she can see how hard I’ve worked at this. It felt so nice to hear her say this, I soaked it up.

Anna said, ‘it feels like this process of talking and sharing all of these memories, all of these parts of you, is very important for you, this is the work. You weren’t ever seen in this way, it’s so important for you to share this now.’ I said, ‘yeah and it’s important that you are accepting what I share and helping me understand it.’ She said, ‘did you ever have a heroine growing up? Someone you looked up to? A superhero or something? Maybe from a book or film?’ She asked me to share the first character that came to mind and I said, ‘I always loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast… she isn’t a superhero but she’s fucking strong, she saved her dad from the Beast, she didn’t conform to what society said she should do or be, she was smart and strong-willed… she even saved the Beast from himself but never violated her values in the process, she was kind and loving but respected herself… she didn’t fit in, everyone said she was weird but she stayed true to herself. She was a dreamer and wanted more than what was offered to her so she just went out and got it. I really loved her… she didn’t need anyone to save her either, she fucking saved herself.’ Anna smiled and raised her eyebrows when I said she saved herself. Now that I’m reflecting on this I remember reading about this hero/heroine stuff in the transactional analysis books. It’s something to do with our script story… things we tell ourselves when we’re very young. Anna said, ‘and you saved yourself from your Beast!’ I said, ‘what, the Beast being my mother?’ She said, ‘the Beast being your mum, your dad, the environment you were living in, the way you were treated, the self harm, suicide ideation… you are saving yourself every day, growing stronger, not putting up with the story your mum told you, making your own story…’ I quite like that.

I’m amazed at how much we managed to cover in 90 minutes. It makes me realise how precious time is. How desperate I have been for Anna to give me more time. More time, more of herself, more, more, more. Now that she is giving me more of certain things (when she sees that it is the right thing to do), those parts of me that constantly want more are quietening or rather they are awakening. The grieving has woken up inside me again, the pain is being felt. I’ve done quite a lot of sobbing my heart out since the session and I’m left realising that this is the point of it all. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT. Therapy isn’t there to make us feel better. Therapy is there to make us feel. And teach us how to cope with those feelings. This is the journey, these are the steps I must take and this is how I must spend these days, weeks, years as I now process what has been buried for a lifetime.

Before leaving I said, ‘do you feel differently about me now after what I’ve told you?’ She looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘not at all, if anything I feel closer to you, and I feel heart sorry for that young girl. I wish things had been different for you, Lucy…’ I said, ‘does it feel okay to feel closer to me?’ and she smiled and said, ‘it feels really good.’

She gave me a really firm hug before I left. While hugging I thanked her and she said, ‘you did so well today Lucy, well done for staying with that, I’m very proud of you.’ I said, ‘thank you for giving me the space to do all this…’ She said, ‘you are so welcome.’ In a really heartfelt way. So that’s what a 90 minute session feels like… and now I want 90 minute sessions every week!

How could I forget the lost children?

I had a dream last night that felt very significant. It was drenched in massive emotions and lots of very vivid details.

In my dream I was very stressed and anxious – overwhelmed with mum duties. It was the morning time on a work/school day and I was getting my kids ready but I hadn’t left any time for myself to get ready for work. Then I turned around and to my surprise I had these two other children, a girl and a boy. They looked so much more like me than my own kids. They had my brown hair and eyes and I felt a very deep connection with them. I felt completely panicked and desperately grieved… how had I forgotten these other two children? How had I poured myself into meeting the needs of my (actual real life) privileged, blond haired children, excessively freaking out that I was failing them all the time, when really I was lavishing them with attention and love while completely neglecting these two brown haired, lonely, sad and afraid kids.

In my dream, two of my managers were in my house and I was desperately pleading with them to let me stay home so I could try to mend things with these two children I had rejected for all of their lives. I needed to see them, spend time with them and show them I love them. I could see my two (real) children were healthy and stable and secure and happy, in extreme contrast with the other two forgotten, lost children who looked neglected and unloved and sorely in need of care.

There was an urgent desire to make things right. To send my secure, happy and healthy kids off for the day knowing they were fine and then stay at home with these two poor neglected souls so that I could do my very best to meet their needs and tend to their broken hearts.

I woke up feeling very sad, like grief type sad… the first words I said to myself were, ‘those lost children were me…’

I need to find them and love them and hope they forgive me for all the years I’ve neglected them.

Control is an Illusion

Almost seven years ago my first therapist, Paul said to me, ‘control is an illusion.’ I was really pissed off with him for saying it because I had built my whole sense of self around the idea that I could control everything… but I wasn’t quite ready to tell a therapist that I was angry so it sat with me for years. He never elaborated and so my understanding on the topic stagnated.

Over the years my understanding of the illusionary nature of control has deepened. We can have power and we can feel in control but we can not have full control over everything. I think I understand on a cognitive level that I can not control most of the things I wish I could control.

Take my next session as an example… I decided last night that I did in fact want to accept the 90 mins that Anna had offered. She replied today confirming the time was still available. From then I have had massive anxiety symptoms in my body and racing thoughts of how I can make it the perfect session. My stomach is behaving as if I have food poisoning – proper threat brain response. And all the questions… how can I make the most of this 90 minutes with her? …. what if I waste our precious time? … what if I get too deep into something then have to hold it for over a week til next time? … what if I go somewhere new and I push her past her invisible limit and she wants to stop working with me because of it? … what if I lose myself? What if!??? What if!???

But then I was reminded of the beauty of letting go. Let go of any expectations. Let go of the control and let spontaneity happen. Let authenticity happen. Let real, raw, unplanned connection and vulnerability happen.

Completely terrifying.

Vulnerable.

Authentic.

Naked.

Raw.

Real.

Flawed.

Unplanned.

Unique.

Unpredictable.

Me.

Petrifying.

I want to plan what I will talk about on Saturday. I want to plan how I will be with her. But I can’t. It’s not coming.

So maybe I need, instead, to let go. Trust the process and see where it takes me.

Welcome Her Home

When I arrived at my session today I felt very agitated. I couldn’t get comfortable I moved about, took my shoes off, changed position in my chair a few times, had a sip of water, told Anna a funny story about my youngest kid asking me what Anna smells like then I finally took a deep breath and said. ‘I feel very agitated just now.’ She calmly smiled, still sitting in the same position she was in when we sat down five minutes before and slightly nodded. She asked me if I had a sense of what that was about and I said I didn’t know… then I said maybe it’s because I spend the days between sessions ‘banking’ topics to talk about in session and then in the few minutes leading up to the start of the session it all pours out of the bank and into my consciousness and I’m suddenly very aware of all these difficult things I’d promised myself I’d talk about. She smiled and said she could understand that would make me feel agitated and anxious. She told me to take my time and try to explain what was going on in my body. As we were tuning in to the sensations and feelings in my body I started to feel spacey. She asked me to put my feet flat on the floor and look at her which I did, it nearly made me cry. She just looks so stable and reliable and calm and warm and all the things I want. I felt my breathing automatically align with hers as I looked at her, a few disjointed, choppy breaths and then a deep one… I felt like I was able to regulate with her help and then I started to talk.

I said that the last couple of sessions have been really useful and that things feel better in my close relationships than they have for a while. I’ve been more connected and have been letting my husband be more emotionally intimate with me. The mood changed quite suddenly and different, contradictory words started to tumble out, ‘but there’s a fear there, I can feel it, it’s not nice, it’s too much, all of this is too much, I don’t want them to know me, this is all to much, I feel weird, I don’t like this!’ Anna asked if something she had said had made it feel too much and I said no, it wasn’t her, ‘it’s just reminding me so much of mum, it’s right there all the time.’ The spacey feeling came back and the room was spinning. I felt like I was drifting up and away, I put my head in my hands, elbows on my knees. ‘I feel shit, I hate this so much, I want it to stop! I don’t get why this is such a big deal.’ Anna said, ‘you don’t?’ And I said, ‘I don’t what?’ And there was a moment of her looking at me as if she was thinking – do you know what you just said? She repeated, ‘you don’t know why this feels like such a big deal?’ And I said, ‘I guess maybe it’s scary to let people in, this is another stage of opening myself up and it’s scary.’ She nodded and then asked me what I was feeling now. I couldn’t really focus on anything. There was a lot of white noise in my head and a buzzing in my whole body under my skin. Eventually I said, ‘there is so much noise – it’s like a hundred cassette tapes all playing at once.’ She asked me what the tapes were playing and I told her, ‘memories, different memories, stories in my mind… but it’s just all too much.’

I felt so cold and I scanned the room for a heater. I spotted it and asked if it was on. She got up and pulled it closer to me then I dragged it right over to beside my chair and rested my arm on it. I told her I’d not been able to heat up all week, that it reminded me of back then… she called them body memories. Being freezing cold all the time, wanting to cover myself up. Feeling exposed and unprotected. I went over the same memories again and again. I remembered all the times I was shut out of the family room where my parents and brother were in the warmth by the coal fire. She asked me how old I would have been and I said, ‘this happened a lot but the earliest time I remember I was about 5… but then I remember it happening in every house we lived in… every age… it happened all the time.’ She said, ‘okay,’ in a gentle voice. I don’t know why she said that, maybe because she was just trying to get me to place the age that was speaking to me. To connect to the inner child that was coming through.

I said, ‘fourteen… I’m fourteen… coming home from school to a dark house that’s cold and empty feeling – especially when mum was in a deep depression, it would feel as though the air had been sucked out of the house.’ I stared into space a bit then moved in my seat and noticed her mirroring my positioning, head tilted in the same direction. I think she does that to try to better read me and to help me feel seen in a non threatening way. I continued, ‘I never knew what would be behind the front door and sometimes I’d open it and there would be nothing, silence, her bedroom door shut, cold and dark, but not empty, I knew she was in there. Like I could feel the depression… other times I just knew she had someone with her, so I’d creep in quietly and hide in my room.’ I could hear my heart beating in my ears.

I quickly moved on. I told her of the times my mother’s mania triggered frenzied shopping sprees or interior design overhauls and the house would be a frantic whirlwind of activity… so much so that she wouldn’t even notice I was home. The house would be floor to ceiling with second hand furniture that she’d bought on a whim and was ‘distressing’ or the wallpaper would be stripped off the walls in three rooms with the old paper strewn across the floor like the entrails of a dissected mouse the cat had tortured. Often there would be a new craft protect on the go and bags of new stencils, paint and glue lying everywhere, a lipstick stained cigarette burning to the filter in an ash tray somewhere. Windows wide open, cold air rushing in and incense sticks in every room to disguise the smell of smoke and paint fumes.

Anna talked to me about how lonely I must have felt and how resilient that little girl was for coming home, making herself and her brother food, carefully detecting the mood of her mother and knowing how to behave around her. She reminded me that I would sometimes have to listen to my mother as she cried and repeated old heartaches to me. All of the things I’d do to try to make her happy. How I could stay on my mums good side by meeting all of her needs, no matter how badly I would betray my own boundaries and values in order to do so.

I told Anna that when I was a bit older, sometimes my mum just wouldn’t be home. Sometimes I would hide away in my room listening to music so loudly that my brain didn’t have space to think of anything else.

Anna said, ‘For some reason I have a vision of your current home, full of light, lights in every room, lights in the kids rooms… light and warmth throughout.’ I nodded and said my house is always warm and full of light. She asked what my lamp beside my bed was like and it suddenly dawned on me, ‘I don’t have one! I’ve got lots of little lights all over the house, one on my husbands side of the bed but none on mine.’ Anna looked kind of moved by this. She’d been emotional at places throughout the session – red rimmed eyes. She said, ‘So the whole house is glowing with light except little Lucy’s corner which is still in the cold, dark shadow of your past…?’ I nodded, took a deep breath and spread my scarf over my legs. Anna said, ‘that little girl deserves a light of her own, to help create a safe and comfortable space for her. Give her the light and warmth she always craved but was never allowed, show her that you know she’s here… you see she’s come home… welcome her home.’ I was nodding, looking at Anna’s hands in her lap. There’s a part of me that’s fascinated with Anna’s hands. They look soft and kind. She went on, ‘I know you’re going to the shops on the way home. Why don’t you pop into the one with the big lights department and have a wander. You know how mesmerising it is in there… you know how sometimes something just speaks to you? That’s your inner child… see if you can find a lamp for Little Lucy to have beside the bed.’ She then explained that the lamp might bring things up for me and if that happens I should write them down. Anything that comes to mind when I see the lamp, just make a note of it and ‘park it’ for when we see each other next session.

So that’s exactly what I did. I went to the shop and I bought a very cute little lamp to go beside my bed. I honestly have no idea why I had neglected this one corner of the house for so long… but now this lamp has been here for less than a day and I can’t believe I didn’t get one sooner. It’s made me smile every time I’ve walked in here. It’s such a cozy, homely space now. It feels nice to have this lamp and to know it connects me to Anna. She’s really doing good work with me just now. It’s moving something inside me that was once stone. Like moving mountains (as cliched as it sounds). Softening my hardness. Inside my mind I am holding little ‘4’s’ hand as we sit side by side next to this lamp of ours. And it feels okay!

It’s Not Fair

The past couple of sessions have been focused on present day relationships. I’ve been in a very adult place and there have been some pressing issues in my close relationships that needed to be picked apart.

So often, present day issues are ignored because the past feels urgent and like it has waited long enough. But recently it’s felt okay and right to talk about ‘today’. Of course, as Anna often points out, even when we’re not taking about my mother it is always about my mother. Repeating patterns in current relationships can always be traced back to her. How I expect to be treated. How I armour myself needlessly, in an act of wilful protection, as if by creating an impenetrable wall now could somehow protect the child of 30 years ago. I cannot go back in time, I cannot save her. But I am starting to listen. I am starting to pay attention, to feel, to hear and therefore to heal. By breaking down the seemingly innocuous details of present day irritations, arguments, unspoken rules, beliefs… I am gifted with a window into my past through the lens of Anna’s expertise and greater perspective.

Anna reminded me, as we finished up on Tuesday, that my mind will process in ways I can’t predict, and to be gentle with myself. The processing… it is happening now. I have felt great all day – actually had the thought that maybe I could reduce my sessions, that I haven’t had any overwhelming emotions threaten to drown me recently. Then tonight, completely out of the blue, I had the image in my mind of my teenage self coming home and not knowing what state I would find my mother in and I suddenly found myself crying on the bathroom floor, sobbing, ‘it’s not fair…’ over and over, silently. ‘I just wanted a normal mum… I wanted her to cook me dinner, to ask about my day, to care about me, to love me… it’s not fair.’ And there it is – the unpredicted processing, the grief flooding in through the cracks in the bathroom door and I’m gasping again.

What a twisted, meandering maze this recovery game is… and I know no one ever said life was fair but, it really isn’t fair at all!

Holding

When I can’t stand myself, she perseveres. When I can’t look at it, she bears witness. When I hate every fibre of my being, she finds something to like. When I want to let go and give up, she holds on.

Anna is a transactional analysist and part of her work is looking at the child ego. She explores it in different ways and explains that we all have parts of ourselves – some people’s parts are more fragmented than others. Some people can sense one child self, others can sense many.

I find it easier to explore very painful memories by talking about the part of me that experienced it. So rather than saying ‘I felt….’ I might say, ‘that part of me feels/felt’. I also find it easier when I relate to the age of the part. So we’ve been working with ‘4’ recently. At the moment I feel irritated and annoyed by 4. I hate 4. I want her to go away. But then those thoughts hurt 4 and so I feel her hurt at being rejected. I am conflicted inside. Feeling both the disgust and the shame. The dismissiveness and the neediness.

I am loathed to imagine being loving and kind towards 4. Part of me feels that she is to blame for everything.

During one session months ago Anna asked me to imagine 4 was sitting in the empty chair beside me then she looked pensive and said, ‘actually, no, because then I’m colluding with the critical parent part that wants rid of her, how about we place 4 on your lap… she’s sitting with you just there.’ She gestured towards my lap and I immediately curled my knees up to my chest and turned away. I said, ‘I’m really uncomfortable with that I don’t want her being so close to me.’

We’ve explored this quite a lot over the past two years and I wrote recently that Anna said, ‘I want to scoop her up and hug her.’ In my last session I brought that up. I said, ‘when you told me that you felt like you wanted to scoop that 4 year old girl up and hug her… that was really powerful. It moved something inside me. I can’t imagine being loving towards her yet but I can imagine her receiving what she needs from you, and that feels like it’s a step in the right direction… all week I’ve been imagining her with you and it feels comforting and like it’s softening something inside me.’ Anna smiled and said, ‘that sounds good… I’ll happily hold her just now, until you’re ready to take her back.’

I love the thought of Anna holding 4. That Anna is not disgusted or irritated by 4 and her wild energy and intense need. Part of me thinks that if Anna can love 4 then maybe I can too.

I just want to scoop that little girl up

I felt nervous about seeing Anna today because I had texted her after she cancelled the last session and between session communications always make me worry that I’m going to be told off and basically abandoned. In the text I’d asked her for a phone call because I was struggling with feeling awful for being so argumentative with her when I saw her last and not being able to feel connected to her. She had replied with a very caring and thoughtful message explaining that she’d rather have the conversation face to face, that I have nothing to apologise for and that it’s all part of the process. Anyway, as soon as I went in, Anna gave me a big smile, hugged me and said, ‘it’s nice to see you.’ I said, ‘you too’ and held on for the longest I’ve ever hugged her for. I thought I might cry, but I didn’t. Damn dysfunctional tear ducts! I thought she might have felt I was hugging her for too long but at least tears would have explained why. I sat down and she said, ‘so, where are you today then?’ Looking back that’s actually quite funny, clearly I wasn’t in the room! I said I didn’t know… I said, ‘I’m feeling really disconnected right now… from life at the moment actually…’ She asked for more information, asked if it was just this past week and because of the last session or before then. I said, ‘it’s been a really full on week, all about the kids coz it’s their birthday week, early starts every morning, day trips every day…’ Anna said she’d been thinking of me through the week and the fact that I’d be doing lots of things for the kids birthdays. The preoccupied part of me wants to latch onto that and ask her for all the details about what she had been thinking. But the avoidant part of me is stronger, I said nothing, just nodded.

Anna apologised for cancelling the last session and she brought up the fact that I had said in my text that I’d felt a lack of connection with her. I said I had been grateful for her reply and that I felt really bad for being so difficult with her. She asked me what I meant and I said, ‘well I was just disagreeing with everything you said and really struggling to connect to you.’ She talked a bit about how sometimes in sessions she might say something that reminds me of my mum and when this happens it might trigger a strong emotional response. I thought about that and then said that I’d actually found it really difficult because she wasn’t just agreeing with me. She asked me to go on and I said, ‘I just wanted you to agree that I’m a shit mum! Even though of course I know you can’t agree with me when I’m putting myself down like that but it’s just like… it’s as if you have this version of me in your head and you can’t bear to believe…’ she interrupted me and said, ‘I don’t know if you remember, but when we first started working together I said that you could tell me anything and I wouldn’t judge you, no matter what you say in this room, there is no judgement.’ I felt like she misunderstood what I meant and I said, ‘yes but it’s like… you know how when I was growing up I had my mum on a pedestal and she could do no wrong… like I thought that she was perfect… I feel like that’s how you were viewing me, like I’m a perfect flawless mum that can do no wrong and I don’t want to feel like that…’ she said, ‘we all have good days and bad days, we have days where we feel like we could have done better… but I hear you give me so many examples of times where you have put your kids first. Take this week as an example, all the things you have done for your kids birthdays, you could have just stayed in bed every day, not planned anything, given them cheap, easy gifts, but instead you have thought about what they like and what would make them happy…’ I said, ‘I just don’t feel like it’s enough… and I don’t feel like you understand me…’ Anna said, ‘I think it’s really important for you to hear me when I say this – I know you feel like you’re a shit mum, I know you feel like you’re going to fuck them up, I don’t believe that you are a shit mum, I think you’re a very thoughtful and loving mum, but I know you don’t feel like that.’ I nodded. I said, ‘you told me you think I have a phobia that I’m going to fuck up my kids. That statement has been sitting in my mind since you said it. I was thinking about what a phobia is, how phobias are irrational, that they don’t make sense but are very powerful and feel very real… and I was thinking that the phobia is actually…’ I started to well up and stopped to breathe, clench my jaw, turn my face away from the light of the window and put my hand up at my face. Despite the fact that I have already cried with Anna now, there are parts of me that do not want to cry in front of anyone… that part was very present today. I finished, ‘the phobia is that I am just like my mother.’ Anna agreed. She listed off examples of all the times mum repeatedly hurt me without ever mending the rupture or limiting the damage and then all the ways I seek connection with my kids, all the ways I try to make them feel loved. I was swaying in and out of the room like a silent wrecking ball, crashing in and feeling the intensity for a moment then fading, fading and sucked back out the hole in the wall.

I said that the kids birthdays have been quite triggering and then I tailed off. Staring into space, almost observing myself. Wanting to shake myself awake and scream into my face, ‘snap out of it! Fucking talk to her!’ Anna eventually broke the silence with, ‘of course it’s been triggering, your kids are getting everything they could wish for and when you were a child you didn’t have birthdays…’ I interrupted her and said, ‘I did have birthdays but they were just really… crap.’ Anna nodded and said, ‘I hear that there is a lot of hurt there.’ I said, ‘it does hurt but at least when I focus on my kids and me as a mother, I have some control over all of that. I wonder if I’m using that as a distraction.’ Anna said, ‘a distraction from…?’ And I said, ‘from thinking about me as a child, when I had no control. I can’t control the past, I can’t change any of it…’ Anna said, ‘no, but you can talk about it. I wonder if that’s what you’d like to do today?’ I nodded and quietly said, ‘not really but…’ and she said, ‘I know it’s very painful, but so important that she gets seen, that little girl who hasn’t been seen for so many years.’

I said, ‘I just, it’s not difficult… it’s so easy to give kids what they need… and to see them… and, even if they were properly skint like they say they were, I mean, you’ve got 12 months to prepare for a birthday… 12 fucking months to save up, to get to know the kid!’ Anna said, ‘yep and it’s the same date every year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise!’ every now and then I get a glimpse of a sassy Anna that I imagine has said these things to people who have hurt her in her personal life. I like it. I continued, ‘Yeah, I mean I prioritise the kids birthdays, I would give up everything to be able to give them what they need.’ Anna said, ‘your mum didn’t give up anything for you…’ I shook my head. I said, ‘I just don’t understand how she could fuck it all up so much! So she had no money but she had money for cigarettes and booze and new clothes and make up for her…’ I said some more angry sounding things but I can’t remember what I said now. More about how easy it is to show my kids love, even if I can’t feel the feelings. Anna said, ‘and that’s what I call being a good mother, meeting the needs of your kids and putting them first no matter what you’re feeling.’

I just sat there for a while, fairly dissociated, staring into space. Again. I started talking about what birthdays were like for me. In a very disorganised, confused way I tried to explain what I’d experienced. This very strong desire to make mum feel good, this big guilt about not really liking anything they gave me, that they never knew me well enough to get me what I liked, that they never fostered any interests in me so I didn’t even know what I liked. I talked about how I work really hard to figure out what Grace likes and that she has space to tell me if she’s disappointed or doesn’t like something or wants something else that I didn’t give her. I felt quite muddled and went back and forth talking about the kids and talking about me. I told her that mum had emailed me the other day apologising for getting the kids crap presents this year and that she would do better next time, even though we’d thanked her for her gifts and hadn’t complained at all. Anna said, ‘she’s fishing for compliments,’ and I was like, ‘yes! She always did that! Even when what she was giving me was really the bare minimum in parenting and she knew it and would eventually make some half hearted attempt at an apology, I would then have to lavish her with compliments and gratitude. Always about making her feel better about herself.’

I randomly started talking about how I wasn’t allowed to be in the livingroom in the evenings. My brother was but I wasn’t. Anna asked for more information and I said that they would always say they wanted adult time and so I wasn’t allowed in there. Anna asked me what would happen and I digressed. Talked about some other random memories. I tried to explain how I never even really knew there was anything ‘bad’ about what I experienced… Anna explained how when we are children we just accept our situation and it’s not until we’re older or maybe go to other people’s houses, then we see that what we are experiencing is not the norm. I said, ‘I’ve read about narcissists and she really fits in with this thing, like it’s so insidious you almost can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with the situation and like, they do things that are so subtle that if you were to complain about it it would make you look petty and critical… like how my mum would always cook dinner just a bit too early so my dad would miss dinner and have to eat by himself when he got home for work, that would then trigger an argument… every damn night! Anna said, ‘is this when your mum and dad were still together?’ and I said yeah but Anna seemed confused and asked, ‘would your dad not eat dinner then?’ I said, ‘she’d plate his dinner up and it would be cold in the kitchen when he got home.’ She asked me, ‘so you’d have your dinner in the kitchen then you’d be told to leave?’ I said, ‘we had our dinner off our laps in the livingroom, then I’d usually go outside to play…’ I spaced out a bit. Anna asked, ‘how are you doing with this?’ I said, ‘I feel like I’m seeing everything through a thick fog, it’s hard to make sense of it all…’ She said, ‘how are you experiencing our connection?’ I said, ‘um… it’s so hard… um I feel like you are fully here, in the room, but I am not here.’ Anna said, ‘what would help you feel more connected? What do you need?’ she said it with such a gentle and kind curiosity that I felt like I could burst into tears right then. I said, ‘to look at you, but it’s too hard.’ She made a joke about this being the only face she has and I sort of half smiled. I kind of wish she knew there are moments when I really don’t want her to joke around. She asked what makes it hard to look at her and I said, ‘because that connects me to the feelings.’ Anna nodded and said, ‘uhu, yeah and you said in your text that you had needed to cry last session?’ I curled up and said, ‘that too… I need that too now, but can’t.’ I rested my chin on my knees for a bit, looking closely at the weave of my big thick scarf that I’d spread over my legs.  

I went off on a tangent and talked about how house proud my mum was and that it was all for show. I talked about how I used to find it really hard going to other people’s houses. That when I went to friend’s houses they always seemed so warm and friendly, their parents seemed really loving and welcoming… it was painful to be there and see how other people lived. I said, ‘I feel so ashamed of all of this, like I don’t want you to know how shit it all was.’ Anna said, ‘just take your time, this is important.’ I said, ‘if I could describe my whole childhood, I would say it was like one massive rollercoaster, everything happened so fast and just happened to me, at me almost, and I never knew what was coming next…’ Anna said, ‘and you had no control over any of it, and you couldn’t get off… that’s a really good analogy, Lucy.’ I gave a slight smile and looked at her, I said, ‘it was frightening a lot of the time, things would just happen and I didn’t have any time to process it, it just all happened…’ we spent a bit of time in silence, occasionally glancing at each other.

I continued, ‘it was different at different points, and we moved house a lot… but I’m thinking about when I was like 11 or 12, we lived in a flat with a long garden that had a river running along the bottom of the garden. I used to sit down there on the wall and cry while watching the water rushing past because the noise of the river drowned out the noise of me crying…’ Anna said, ‘that sounds really lonely.’ I said, ‘yeah’ not looking at her, I continued, ‘I used to do that a lot… just take myself off… I used to go for long cycles up the back roads to the countryside behind the village and sit and cry by myself, or cry in the shower, or in bed at night…’ I laughed a bit when I said this and she said, ‘that sounds like you were hurting a lot, something made you laugh?’ I said, ‘well I was just thinking what a loser! Then thought, don’t say that coz then Anna will say ‘don’t call yourself a loser’.’ She said, ‘I think it sounds like a child who is experiencing big emotions that she’s having to hold all by herself and then because you have no one to go to, you’re finding times to be by yourself to let the feelings out… I wonder if you hoped your mum would try to come find you and comfort you?’ I said, ‘maybe but I can’t imagine that ever happening… I mean I used to go off all the time… even when I was really young… like when I was 4, even back then I spent a lot of time outside… we lived in a tenement flat and the gardens all ran together along the back, then a wall, then a lane. I used to play out the back in that lane… I remember playing in a skip down that lane actually.’ I sort of shook my head in disbelief. ‘I remember being in and out of people’s houses… there was a sense of not being able to go home, you know? I didn’t ever feel like I could just ‘be’ at home.’ Anna questioned, ‘to stay out of her way?’ I said, ‘I guess I would have just been under her feet,’ she said, ‘so you knew to stay out of the house so you would not get under her feet so to avoid angering her?’ I was kind of spacey and didn’t really respond although I had listened, I said, ‘she did come after me back then, she’d run around shouting my name and then she’d find me…’ I don’t remember what Anna said after that. ‘She would tell me off for not staying in the garden.’

I randomly jumped back to what Anna had said, ‘you know, there were probably countless times throughout each and every day when I had to supress how I felt to keep her happy so it’s like it would all be stored up inside me and I guess then I’d find ways to let the feelings out, by myself.’ As I recall saying this, I don’t have a memory of what Anna looked like or what I was doing, I think actually I had my eyes closed. I did that quite a lot this session, closed my eyes when talking about some of the memories. As if on a roller coaster, terrified, eyes squeezed tightly shut. I wonder why I did that.

Anna started to talk about that little girl, me at 4 years old, as if she was in the room with us. She was being compassionate and I couldn’t stand it. I interrupted her and said, ‘I don’t want to have compassion for her, I’m so ashamed of her, I don’t even want to think about her, I can’t bear to imagine her being in this room with us.’ I felt hot with rage. Anna said, ‘let’s explore that shame, what are you ashamed of?’ I said, ‘I can see her in my mind. I don’t want to describe her to you, I don’t want you to see what I see.’ Anna said, ‘because…?’ in a curious tone. After a long pause I said, ‘I just hate her so much,’ Anna said, ‘what do you hate about her?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to tell you what I’m thinking because it’s words that an adult should never say about a kid…’ Anna said, ‘hmmm I understand, it’s important that you share how you feel though, these feelings deserve to be shared…’ eventually I said, ‘she looks like a homeless kid – it’s embarrassing, she’s dirty, her hair’s a mess coz… well my mum always cut my hair, she would always hack at it, it was a total mess all the time… and that girl, she’s dirty, a total loser… she’s needy… she’s too much…’ Anna said, ‘those are not your words, ‘too needy’ – who’s words are they?’ I reluctantly said they were my mum’s words. Anna said, ‘think about your kids, you take them to the hairdresser and they get to choose how they want to style their hair and you let them choose their clothes. You didn’t get to choose… that little girl, it’s not her fault that her hair was messy, you say she looks like a homeless child, it isn’t her fault that no one is taking care of her, she couldn’t go home so she stayed outside, she would stay away, she played at other people’s houses. You say she is dirty, you see a loser, I see resilience… I see a little girl who knew how to keep herself safe.’ I nodded and there was more silence then I looked right at her as she said, ‘I just want to scoop that little girl up into my arms and hug her.’ I started to tear up and quietly said, ‘that sounds nice.’ There was another quiet moment. I could amost hear the crying inside me. Anna then said, ‘one day that self compassion will grow and you’ll be able to reach down and pick up that little girl yourself and give her all the love she needed…’ I didn’t like the sound of that, I don’t want it to be me holding her I want it to be Anna, it made me feel rejected and embarrassed actually, to imagine me holding my child ego. I sort of blocked the idea out of my head and just held onto the idea that Anna isn’t repulsed by that girl and that she would hold her up in her arms if she could.

Anna gave me a ten minute warning and we agreed that it would probably be a good idea to stop. I started talking about something we had done as a family this week and we had a bit of a laugh about something funny that had happened. I then said, ‘you know, this stuff we’re doing, it hurts so much.’ Anna said, ‘I know, and you’re doing so well staying with it, so well.’

We hugged goodbye and then I found myself in my car, tears burning the back of my throat.

A Realisation

EDIT – I’ve just reread my post from yesterday and I see that I sort of wrote about this yesterday… that shows how dissociative I was – I didn’t even remember what I’d ‘realised’ after the session!

I’ve just had a realisation about yesterday’s session. The distance and lack of connection I am feeling with Anna is exactly what I feel with Grace. The therapy room is often a mini stage for all the things that happen in our day to day lives that we can’t get a hold of.

The therapeutic relationship is an intense version of other relationships in our lives. It places us under the magnifying glass. Showing us what often remains unconscious. It acts as a mirror, reflecting back to us what we need to learn about our patterns, thoughts and behaviours. It unpicks and scrutinises so that we may learn new ways to be with others and with ourselves.

I have unconsciously transferred my feelings (the very frightening numb nothingness I feel for my kids – especially my daughter) so that I can work on it in the room with Anna. I wonder if she experienced it like that too. If she did then she could use that counter-transference to help me understand how my daughter (and probably other people in my life) feel when I’m going through an episode of disconnect. Does she feel connected to me or does she feel pushed away and shut out? Does she feel like I’m not all there or is she still able to sense the care and bond between us even when I can’t feel it?

This could potentially be really important work. I’ll be bringing this to Anna on Tuesday. I wonder if she’s also reflected on the session and sensed this dynamic playing out.

Ignorance is Bliss

I said I was feeling anxious and Anna said, ‘normal anxious or unusual anxious? Because you have spoken about how you always feel anxious before a session so I wonder if it feels different today…?’ I said, ‘I feel anxious often before a session, not always.’ She smiled patiently and nodded. I don’t know why I said that because she is right, I do feel anxious to some degree every session. I guess today I felt more so than usual. But also, I was feeling contrary… I don’t know why. I feel like I was hard on her, quite argumentative. Creating distance. Looking back I wonder if I was unconsiously playing a game – creating space and disconnect in the relationship so that she might feel (in the form of counter-transference) the disconnect and distance I have been trying to explain to her that I feel with my kids, and in most of my relationships. Now though I just feel really sad that I didn’t connect with her, I regret not pulling her closer. I was close to tears a lot yesterday and cried while on the phone to my friend in the evening. I really wanted to cry with Anna but when I was sitting with her I was quite dissociative and it just felt like a big wall was between us.

I told her I wanted to continue talking about what we’d been talking about the last two sessions… my lack of ability to feel love/connection with my kids. I said, ‘but it’s so hard though, I think I need to slowly pick through it all because it’s very confusing and fuzzy inside my head and body… I don’t really know what I think or feel about it all… I don’t feel like I’m going to make any sense today…’ she said, ‘just take your time and see what emerges, we can work on what ever comes up.’ So I started to explain in a really disjoined, unemotional way that I had been processing all of this through the week and it had made me upset to think of all the things I’ve missed because I’ve not been fully connected to my kids. I said, ‘I think I’ve underestimated how dissociated I’ve been in all of my relationships all my life… I don’t think I’ve ever really connected to people… maybe I’ve never felt love for anyone and I’ve never felt on the receiving end of anyone’s love… I don’t even know what love is.’ Anna asked me what I thought love was and I deflected the question. She gave some examples of love and said, ‘if we had 50 couples here we’d have 50 different examples of love, love means different things to different people… maybe for one person it’s that her partner brings her a cup of tea in the morning…’ she gave other scenarios but I wasn’t able to focus on what she was saying. I was feeling quite deifant and at one point said, ‘so it’s just acts of service? As long as you do x, y and z it doens’t matter how you feel? I want to know what it FEELS like in the body!’ I moved to sit on the floor because my anger was making me feel really spacey and I pulled the candle over to smell it. It was Ylang Ylang and I think I said outloud, ‘that smells nice’ – interrupting whatever she was saying. I wish she’d noticed how far away I was. I needed her to find me. It’s like playing hide and seek and reaching the point where you realise everyone has stopped playing and they don’t care that they never discovered your hiding place.

I told her I’d spoken to a friend last night and realised a few things. I realised I have felt love for my kids, that I would do anything for them (she smiled enthusiastically and nodded and it made me feel nauseous, like she HAS to believe I am this perfect mother)… I continued, ‘maybe it’s that I can’t feel a connection to them or something. I’ve spent their whole lives doing everything in my power to demonstrate love to them when I haven’t been able to feel it. I’ve said to you before that they deserve better than me, they deserve more, I’m not enough, they’d be better off without me… what I’ve realised is that what I mean is they deserve a mother who is fully present and feeling and connected to them all the time.’ Anna was quiet for a fair amount of the session. I wonder if she’s reached a point where she doesn’t know what else to say to me.

Eventually she said, ‘you have told me countless stories of moments you’ve had with your kids that have really moved me when you have attuned to their needs emotionally, you’ve listened to them, you’ve shown an interest in them…’ I got kind of pissed off and said, ‘I don’t feel like you understand what I’m trying to say, I KNOW that I am DOING the things I need to do but it’s like… uh… fucking hell I don’t know how to explain it!’ She told me to take my time and I said, ‘if you were talking to someone, like a colleague at work and they were distant, they were going through the motions but weren’t fully in the conversation, you’d notice it wouldn’t you? Well kids are the same, they know, THEY WILL KNOW I’M NOT THERE EMOTIONALLY!’ She asked me how I know Adam loves me and it pissed me off because she asked me that last weekend and I’d answered her then. I said, ‘you asked me that last Saturday and yeah I do feel his love…’ she asked me how I know he loves me and I said, ‘well he’s stuck around for quite a while!’ she said, ‘what does that tell you?’ and I said, ‘that he’s persistent!’ and I laughed. I said, ‘I know he loves me, he tells me, he gives me examples of things he loves, he compliments me, he prioritises me, he wants to spend all his time with me, he does things for me, he listens to me…’ then I said, ‘my mum told me she loved me all the time,’ Anna interrupted and said that my mum said it with words but not actions and I said, ‘she showed me she loved me in some ways… she tidied my room, she put dinner on the table…’ I gave a sarcastic laugh and said something about ‘bare minimum love!’ Anna said, ‘what were the things she didn’t do?’ I sat in silence with my arms folded and my foot tapping. I was sinking inside myself, feeling very angry that she was making me think about this. I said, ‘show an interest in my life, spend time with me, prioritise what I like, listen to me, let me feel my feelings, hug me every so often…’ There was a pause and then Anna said quietly, ‘these are all the ways she didn’t show you love?’ I nodded, still in a really sullen mood. She said quite firmly, ‘and you do ALL THESE THINGS for your children, Lucy.’ This broke my window gazing and I stared straight into her eyes and said angrily, ‘but I don’t FEEL IT! Do you think you’d be as good a therapist as you are if you couldn’t feel a connection with your clients? If you felt nothing for them?’ She felt something when I spoke to her like that but I don’t know what it was, maybe I hurt her feelings, I really hope not. It all felt scary and fragile and on a knife’s edge. She said, ‘that’s a really good question, sometimes we don’t feel… and there’s always a reason for that…’ I said, ‘do you think your clients would benefit from the work you’re doing with them if you felt nothing for them? Do you think they’d be able to tell?’ she started to try to formulate a response and I cut her off, ‘you don’t need to answer that, I’m just trying to get you to understand what I’m feeling. There’s a difference between doing something on autopilot and doing it because you feel it.’ Anna said, ‘I am trying to understand, I am convinced the feelings are there. You dissociated all of your life for good reason Lucy and we’ve been working for two years and very slowly putting that barrier down a tiny bit at a time and now you’re starting to feel things and it’s fucking scary, I know that.’

I said that I felt like I was fucking things up. She had said something about no one being perfect and the kids were bound to grow up with things that they would need to work on because that’s life, she said, ‘when we have experienced a childhood like you did we develop this hypervigilance in relationships and you are hypersensitive to the needs of your kids…’ I cant remember exactly what she said next but then she said, ‘and you have developed an extreme phobia of traumatising your kids like you were traumatised as a child…’ (Extreme phobia… that one’s gonna stick with me!) I said, ‘if I thought for a second that I would fuck my kids up I would never have had kids, they are better off without me.’ I wasn’t looking at her, I was staring with my eyes blurred, focused a few inches from my face staring at the wall.’ She said, ‘we can’t choose the feelings we numb, it’s a bit like when the tiger bread comes out the oven and it’s not been sliced by the machine yet, it all just comes out in one go… you’re being overwhelmed by all these feelings that you’ve so brilliantly protected yourself from for all these years and it’s very frightening…’ I said, ‘I don’t know why I am STILL going over this shit… like yesterday me and Grace were in the car and I had the music blaring and I could see her wee face in the mirror singing away…’ Anna was smiling but her face dropped when I said, ‘but the only reason I had the music on was so we didn’t have to talk, it was just me and my fucking daughter and I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her! I always do that, I create distance, I don’t know what to say to her I don’t know her! I forced myself to turn the music off but I didn’t know what the fuck to say and I just asked if she was excited about the party later but I mean, any fucking stranger could have asked her that, that’s not something you say when you really know a person…’ Anna said, ‘okay lets slow down, this is what this session is about so I don’t want you going away thinking you haven’t focused on the ‘right thing’ because this is it, we have gone with what has naturally come up… so… do you think a traumatised child sits happily singing along to music in the car? She sees you singing too, even if you’re not singing she’ll just think you’re concentrating on driving. And you asked if she was excited… that’s not ‘nothing’ that’s asking about her feelings. That’s caring and loving!’ I said, ‘but kids KNOW! I remember when she was a baby I read that babies sense their mothers feelings, they know when the mother is anxious or depressed, Grace will KNOW that I’m not in it with her…. When I was a kid being in the car was horrible, it was so erratic and crazy and arguments and… when the music was on that meant everyone was happy and calm… no one was arguing when there was music on.’ Anna said, ‘okay so that’s a memory, a childhood memory that you’ve lifted and changed to fit with the present moment. When you were a child it was frightening to be in the car with your parents, but when the music was on everyone was singing and happy… so perhaps you put music on in the car to help your child feel calm because she is anticipating arguments and feelings of danger… but Grace doesn’t have any experience of that. You are not your mother and Grace is not you.’ Suddenly I said, ‘so does it not matter if I don’t feel the love and connection? Can she feel a connection and love just because of the things I do, the loving actions make her feel loved? Will she feel my love even if I can’t feel it?’ I looked at Anna and she gave a subtle smile and slight nod, she said, ‘what do you think?’ I took a very big breath and so did she. I’m not sure I answered her.

Anna said, ‘when you have arguments or angry words you always go back and explain to Grace what has happened, that it wasn’t her fault, she is learning from you that people make mistakes but that they apologise, that love is strong and that loving relationships are caring and respectful…’ there was a pause and then she asked me if I heard her. I nodded. I must have looked very distant. I sat back up on the chair and pulled my knees to my chest and she continued very slowly and quietly in a sort of sing song voice like speaking to a child, ‘you never had that, Lucy. You would cry yourself to sleep and no one would explain what had happened, no one cared to tell you… you would then wake up and try to make sense of the frightening things that had happened by believing that you were to blame…’ I was feeling completely depressed and bleak at this point, she does this sometimes, she’s trying to lead me by the hand into the flames so that I feel it. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. She said, ‘and now you are an adult you can see that it could never have been your fault, you were a child, you deserved for someone to come back in and hold you and tell you that it wasn’t your fault and…’ she continued but I felt like I had fallen backwards out of a boat and was sinking head first into the black depths of the ocean inside myself.

At one point I came back. Gasped for air and suddenly launched into a very cohesive thought, ‘I think although this stuff about my kids is all very real and I do really struggle with the numbness, I think that perhaps on some unconscious level I have been fixating on them because worrying about how I am mothering is painful but so much more manageable than thinking about how I was mothered and perhaps I feel like I have more control over how I parent my own children so I can scrutinise it to squeeze it into some sort of perfection whereas I had no control over how I was parented and the pain of it, the realising, the grief is so agonising I can barely look at it without burning my eyes out, it brings to mind a philosophy allegory that I learned about when I was in uni, I think it was Plato, I don’t know if you know it… the story goes that there are these men, they’re prisoners and they are all chained together facing a cave wall, their whole lives they live like this watching the cave wall, dark figures move across the surface of the wall and they think that this is life but then one day one of the men breaks free and turns around to see that the real world has been going on behind him all this time, the sun is painfully blinding as he’s never faced that way before and he realises that the dark figures were shadows cast from the sun of the people in the real world… he then faces the dilemma of going back to the cave to tell his fellow prisoners of what they’ve missed out on their whole lives…. I don’t really know why that comes to mind now… I feel almost like I’m just waking up and it’s so painful there’s part of me that wants to go back to being ignorant and chained down to the not knowing… because now I have to face all that I missed all that I didn’t have, all of it… I can hardly bear, Anna.’ These few minutes were the most connected we were in the whole session. We were looking at each other the whole time and she was listening carefully to me. I don’t remember where it went after that.

Before the session ended I talked about how when she had offered me the phone call last month and the slight reduction in cost for the double session weeks, it had made me cry because for a second there I felt her care for me and it hurt because I haven’t always been able to feel that. She said that I won’t be able to trust that care in relationships and that naturally I will be guarded and so I test it. She elaborated then asked if it made sense and I nodded. She said, ‘like how you texted me before the session to check that it was definitely the reduced price, just to make sure I wasn’t going to take the offer back, that I hadn’t changed my mind (we knowingly smiled at each other). Eventually we start to let in the kindness, we experience the good in people, we let them care, we take more risks, we learn that some people can be trusted… but there’s no rush, it can’t be rushed.’ I said, ‘I don’t feel the need to rush as much as I used to, not like before… I mean I don’t want to feel this awful all the time and I do want it to be over but I used to want to hurry up and get through it all quickly so that I was ‘better’ before you left me but now I don’t really feel that so much.’ She smiled and said, ‘well that’s massive progress, that today you don’t feel the need to rush because you trust I’m not going to leave you… that’s two years of work right there… well done!’ I gave a small smile.

At the end of the session we hugged and she felt so warm and smelled so lovely. She felt like home for that split second. I unintentionally said outloud, ‘you’re so warm, this is lovely’ and she squeezed a bit tighter and said, ‘you did really well today Lucy, I know that was really hard, well done for staying with it… we will see each other on Tuesday.’ I thanked her and then I was in my car and now I am home, missing her, wishing I could go back to her office where it will now be dark and cold and empty. I would curl up on her chair and go to sleep and not wake up until she walks into the room and turns in the light on Tuesday.

Preparing for the Tears

Anyone who has followed my therapy journey thus far (or even those who have just dipped in and out occasionally) will know I have had a hard time crying. I’ve talked at length about my desperation to cry with Anna in session. I’ve had so many times where the tears have burned the back of my throat but I haven’t been able to let them come. I have never deliberately stopped the crying, it just would never happen until I walked out of her office and turned onto her street, then it would start. Or when I reached my car and sat down, then the dam would break. During one particularly painful session I did begin to cry but the hot shame ate me up and I hid my face in my jumper only to escape to the toilet a few seconds in.

I have really only ever cried on my own… even crying on my own felt shameful. At first I thought I didn’t need to cry with another person, I believed I could deal with all of my issues by talking and thinking my way through them. But over the months working with Anna I have noticed a strong desire to cry with her. I wanted to be able to completely express my emotions and have my therapist support me in those moments. I felt like I was missing a vital part of the bonding, connecting and healing relationship by not crying. But I felt like it was beyond my capabilities. How could I learn how to cry in front of her when I have never cried in front of anyone before. Even as a small child, I don’t remember crying while being comforted by someone. I never went to my mum when I was upset.

There was a moment in session around the year and a half mark where Anna clumsily stated, ‘we’ve been working together nearly two years now and you still haven’t cried with me…’ that hurt. I talked to her a lot about it, I’ve blogged about it, she apologised and said she regretted it immensely. I think she was trying to illustrate to me how deeply my trust had been broken as a child, for me to still be finding it so impossible to be vulnerable with her. It triggered a massive shame response in me but interestingly, instead of giving up (like I imagined I would), I became even more motivated to drive myself forwards towards crying with her.

I didn’t consciously do things to help me cry but looking back I can see that a number of things that happened between us were laying down the foundations for that work to be possible. One thing I did was challenge her on how she responds to my massive feelings in session. I told her that I’d been speaking to my friend who is also a client of hers and I know that she offered my friend physical reassurance, that she sat beside her when she was crying. I questioned Anna, ‘why do I have to ask for things that she gets offered to her? Why, when it’s so much harder for me, must I ask for what I don’t even know I need…?’ That session was a big turning point because we contracted that when I am dissociative, very sad, very numb, crying… she will ask me if I want her to sit beside me, ask if I want her hand on me, ask if I want a hug from her. I can see now that I was afraid I would be the most vulnerable I’ve ever been, I’d cry and I’d be sitting by myself crying while she watched me. It would be an abandonment I wouldn’t be able to recover from… that session helped reassure me that she would respond the way I needed her to, even when I didn’t know what I needed.

Another thing I did was let her know how I felt about her note taking. I told her there had been times when I felt like she was using my dissociative moments to take notes and in those moments I’d finally be able to look back at her only to catch her with her head down, writing… I didn’t know at the time but I was asking to be seen. I needed her to notice the subtle changes in my face and body, I needed her to be completely aware if I was going to cry, I couldn’t bear her missing it… the rejection would have been agony.

Along with these things, I talked a lot about wishing I could cry in session. I would tell Anna how pissed off I was at myself and each time I did Anna would tell me to understand why it is hard to cry, to respect my protective parts who have looked after me so well, she would tell me to be patient, that these things take time and that there is still a very young part of me who is frightened to be vulnerable with her. I understand now that I was trying to see if SHE was pissed off with me or feeling frustrated or impatient. I needed to know that she respected my time frame and understood why I was finding it hard.

I also did things by myself to help me become more comfortable with crying in front of Anna. If I cried by myself I would imagine her sitting with me. At first when I did this I could only imagine her sitting in her chair in front of me and it felt so awful that even in my imagination I would run out of the room. I actually told Anna this – I felt so much shame admitting it but she told me she was really proud of me for finding such a creative way to comfort myself and feel close to her when we’re apart. Eventually I was able to imagine her sitting next to me as I cried, arm around me. That was a huge step for me and it was only imagining it in my head! I also looked at her photo (from her professional website) while I cried which looking back, really helped desensitise me. I told her about this too, thinking she’d be repulsed by my stalkerish behaviour. But she was just pleased I was finding ways to practice being close to her.

There have now been two sessions in which I have cried with Anna. I sort of feel robbed of a fan-fair and celebratory champagne… where was the chorus of ‘well done’ and round of applause. There was no enthusiastic acknowledgement of the unimaginable after it happened. Both times it felt just like an extension of talking or sitting with her while I’m feeling things (this also was an amazing achievement after being numb for so long). The crying just made sense. It wasn’t an explosion of messy noise and humiliation. It was a quiet seeping out of tears and whispered words. It was effortless. I can’t believe I’m saying those words… but it really was easy.

Looking back I can see that I had prepared myself and her for the time when the tears would come. I unconsciously made sure I would get what I needed when it happened.

I’m working on processing my understanding of all of this. I know this post is fairly disorganised but it’s just how my brain is working right now… slowly building my understanding of these changes in me.