Look for the beauty

We went on a road trip which took us on a ferry over the water to a small island.

We listened to live music and watched the kids play football with some other kids we didn’t know. People were laughing and dancing. The sun was shining. We ate lunch out and had ice cream. There were gardens with beautiful flowers and a pond with fish and water lilies similar to one I have tattooed on my skin.

I started to feel overwhelmed. So much peace and happiness, so much joy. It makes my small child’s heart ache. It is a reminder of what I never had. It feels like such a cruel punishment that as an adult, even when I’m experiencing joy, there is pain there. Emotional flashbacks… the body holds the memories.

I took a moment to breathe and look around. I walked away from the noise and looked closely at the lily. A breathtaking symbol of enlightenment. The beauty that blooms from the muddy waters.

I thanked it. Outloud.

Thank you for reminding me to slow down and be grateful for how I am blooming… slowly, in my own time, in my own unique way, through the mud and up into the light, with my slightly crumpled petals and delicate edges… thank you for reminding me how I fought my way out and up for air. Thank you for reminding me that my roots may be in dirt and muck but my face is turned towards love and my arms reach out for hopeful, nurturing things.

I wandered back to my kids and my husband and silently shared my gratitude for them with the little girl inside me.

You were always worthy

Maybe they couldn’t see it.

Your worthiness.

Maybe they never felt their own sense of worth.

So couldn’t bear to see it in you.

Maybe their pain drowned them,

Rendering them incapable of loving you.

Maybe no one had shown them their worth.

So they couldn’t afford to show yours to you.

Their inability to see you,

To see your worthiness.

To love you…

Their inability to meet your needs.

It was never about you.

It was always about them.

You were always loveable.

You were always so very easy to love.

You were always just right, as you were.

No need to change.

You were always worthy.

You were always worthy.

YOU WERE ALWAYS WORTHY.

You were always deserving.

A hungry child doesn’t become less hungry,

When they’re not fed.

A worthy child doesn’t suddenly lose their worth,

Just because their worthiness isn’t met.

You are still worthy.

Now you can get your own needs met.

The biggest need of all…

Might be to grieve that you were in fact worthy,

All along.

Joy in the Therapy Room

I had mixed feelings all week about tonight’s session. It is the session before a therapy break. It’s only one week’s break… Anna’s going on a well earned holiday and will be back the following week. However, because of my attachment wounds, the relational trauma, the abandonment issues… therapy breaks always push me into the corners of my mind. It really accentuates how fragmented my internal reality is. The way my body/mind seems to hold several very different (often opposing) ideas/thoughts/feelings.

Tucked away in a deep, dark corner there’s a young part of me that’s felt very sad about Anna’s approaching holiday. Like she’s abandoning me. The overwhelming sense of being alone and on the outside. I wrote a couple of posts about it on Instagram… the feeling of being outside the therapy room and looking in at her empty chair. Wanting to curl up into a tiny ball on her chair and sob my heart out… the idea of being outside her family and looking in, longing to be embraced by her as if she were my mother. The familiar feeling of not being wanted, not being loved.

Leaning over the banister overlooking that child, there is an anger and resistance … it feels teen like. This part is furious at me for all the things I talked about last week. She’s shouting, ‘you’re an idiot, you should never have said that, you betrayed mum and dad, Anna will know you’re a terrible person, you’re disgusting, you make me sick, you should have kept quiet… get over it… stop going on about it, stop crying you fucking freak, what the hell is wrong with you, you push everyone away, no one will ever love you, no wonder she’s taking a break, she needs to get the hell away from you, you’re so intense, she’ll probably never come back you should probably just quit to save the last bit of dignity you have left…’ That kind of thing. It’s not pleasant.

Resting somewhere mid/foreground, there’s an ever strengthening adult part who is slowly flexing and stretching her muscles… she is gently, tentatively reassuring the anger that it’s okay to trust Anna. That the anger (and the underlying fear it’s masking) is understandable… it makes sense considering the betrayals and neglected needs of childhood… That it’s okay to talk about these things. That nothing bad is going to happen if I open up and share the secrets I’ve kept inside me for all these years. That Anna will not reject or abandon me because of what I told her. That no one will punish me for sharing.

In the hours running up to the session I actually felt good. I’ve been very busy with work and focusing all my attention on that during the day. I had also made the decision to not go deeply into things with Anna because of the missed session next week. Instead I thought we could talk about family life, little niggles, my husband and our relationship… day to day stuff that often gets ignored because there is always something bigger and muddier to delve into with Anna.

I was so pleased to see Anna tonight. I have so much warmth and affection for her, it hits me as soon as I turn the corner into her room. The way she behaves with me. That she intentionally smiles when she sees me (since I told her that when she greets me with a straight face it makes a part of me freak out thinking she’s angry with me or sick of me and sends the whole session into turmoil). I love her quirky dress sense and that I can tell she loves clothes and shoes by how many different items I’ve seen her in over the months. That she sometimes has a new candle on at the start of my session, that I can see she only just lit it and I wonder if she’s bought it with me in mind, to help ground me.

I explained that I wanted to keep things light and told her why. She agreed and congratulated me on the self-care I was affording myself. She did say she wanted to honour the ‘kickback’ I’d felt after the last session to help minimise the chances of it happening again. We talked about the critical voice and how I had brought myself back from the slippery slope of self-hate (that can so rapidly lead to self-harm). I talked about how I’d called on my learned knowledge of mindfulness. How we can train ourselves to observe and ‘notice’ the thoughts and feelings as opposed to ‘being in’ them. That once I had brought my awareness to the thoughts and feelings I was able to feel detached from them in an observer role. I could then give myself advice on how to deal with feeling so guilty and angry. She was so proud of me, she beamed. She told me, ‘well done, you really looked after yourself, you couldn’t have done that 6 months ago… well done!’ I thanked her. She wrote a lot of notes at that point and I wondered how she was wording what we just talked about.

I briefly mentioned my friends funeral that I attended a few days ago. We talked about how hard it was but that it was manageable. That since feeling my feelings more, I am less overwhelmed by funerals. I used to cry uncontrollably throughout and after funerals. As if it was the only time I thought it was socially acceptable to cry so I would finally let out all of the crying I’d held in for years. This time it didn’t feel like there was a heaving body of water behind a rickety old dam. This time it felt like the tears I shed were actually for my friend, because I have been shedding the built up tears of my own grieving bit by bit, every day.

Something really magical and amazing happened about a third of the way through the session. We refocused back onto the agenda for the session and at one point when I was talking about a few things that have been happening this week, Anna and I got the giggles. It started with me finding an anecdote about my kids amusing. I saw the ridiculousness of how annoyed my husband had been at the situation and then couldn’t ‘unsee’ how silly it was. Then I told her another story with the intention of trying to get to the bottom of why my husband gets so quickly frustrated with these things and why I find his frustration so annoying. The content of what I was saying wasn’t funny at all but it really tickled us both. It quickly escalated to the point where Anna and I were silently in hysterics, tears rolling down our faces, sharing glances at each other with smiles and tissues wiping the tears… it was so beautiful. I’ve never experienced laughter with her like that before. I’ve done the whole ‘deflecting the pain with black humour’ type laughter… but never have I shared a moment with her where we are both belly laughing. Every time we settled ourselves and I tried to start again something else would set us off. She said, ‘it’s so great to see you laughing, Lucy!’ and I said, ‘its really lovely to laugh with you.’ It felt just as intimate as the moments when I have been confessing my deepest secrets, crawling in shame, only this time I didn’t want to hide from her.

When I was a child, if I found things funny my mum would tell me to stop being silly or she’d take it personally thinking my brother and I were making fun of her. I’d be sent to my room or shouted at, told to go away… I remember trying very hard to supress my joy, just like I supressed other emotions in front of her. This evening, with Anna (who momentarily will be graced with the nickname ‘therapy mum’) I just let it all pour out of me. It felt so connecting and authentic. There was no need to analyse or interpret the laughter, we just let it be there between us. There’s something so powerful about knowing the person you’re with is feeling the same thing you’re feeling. No resistance, no defensiveness, no shaming or belittling… just an open, loving willingness to connect to your feelings and share the experience. I felt like an energetic, excited kid relishing in (therapy) mums attention and love. I felt like she was enjoying me tonight… that’s a new feeling.

I have quite a long drive home from my sessions and often that gives me time to reflect in an adult headspace (I have to stay in adult because I’m driving!)… tonight I thought about how the session was metaphorically like taking a holiday from the relentless hamster wheel of in depth therapy. It felt like after months and months of being submerged in the thick black depths of the ocean of my mind, we were coming up for air. Just briefly, together. Glancing at each other across the surface of the water, smiling at how far we’ve come, how attached and connected we are, before plunging again into the great unknown.

I reflected on how I never shared this carefree joy with my mother and although there’s a slight sadness there for the child who missed out on this, there’s also a sadness for my mother. I at least have experienced these joys in other relationships, I’m not sure she ever has.

Lastly, when I got home, I reflected on how this joyful interlude can be in some way transplanted into my ‘real life’ relationships. I thought about how my husband and I get so bogged down by family life sometimes, the mess and the constant daily chores, the nagging and the exhaustion. I thought about how once in a while we should allow our playful, joyful sides up for air – to laugh at these things as they are happening… the ridiculousness of life with young kids. To let the genuine, restorative love we have for each other spark a humorous interlude once in a while. Take a holiday from being ‘serious mum and dad’ and just laugh.

What a total joy it was to share this moment with Anna. To feel her accepting me and all that I bring to her, even if it’s not the most exciting, interesting ‘trauma’ she can sink her teeth into… I brought her raw, real connection and she gave me her authentic responses in return and that is what therapy is all about.

Hugging her at the end felt different to all the other times. I was completely grounded, no blurred edges, no floating, no dissociation. I felt my arms around her back, felt the fabric of her top rucked beneath my palms. I rested my face on her shoulder, smelt her perfume, felt her arms round me, felt her breathing against me. She said again, ‘it was so lovely to laugh with you,’ as she held me, and I felt it.

You Make Sense

This is genuinely one of the most beautiful and healing things Anna has taught me so far in therapy.

I make sense.

She understands.

All the things I’ve done. All the thoughts and feelings. The maladaptive behaviours. The defence mechanisms. The coping strategies. The difficulties with trust. The pulling away and withdrawing. The needs. The attention seeking behaviours. The anger. The pain. Addictions. Self harm. Difficulties in relationships. Anxiety. Depression. Obsessive behaviours. Intrusive thoughts. All of it and so much more.

She said, ‘I understand that I only know a fraction of what you’ve experienced and in time, when you want to, you’ll share more… but going on what I already know, you make perfect sense to me. The way you are, the way you think, the way you behave… all the things you value, the people you draw near, the fears and anxieties… all of it – it all makes sense to me. I understand.’

It all makes perfect sense.

When you look at how you are, think and behave through the lens of what you experienced as a child, how could you not view it with compassion and understanding?

You Want Too Many Hugs

I shared some memories in my session last night that all had a common theme. Times where I received the following messages:

you’re too much

you’re too needy

you’re not lovable

you’re not wanted here

One memory is of my mother pulling my arms from around her thighs and saying, ‘you want too many hugs!’

Another is of a time she told me, ‘you’ll never meet a man who wants as many hugs as you do…’

The times she literally said the words, ‘you’re too needy I don’t have the time/space for this’

All the times she moved away from me if I sat next to her.

The times she didn’t run her fingers through my hair like she did with my brother.

The times she wouldn’t let me play with her hair like she let my brother.

The times I was locked in my room so I wouldn’t bother them.

The times I was sent outside so they could be alone.

The times I was sent to my room in the evening as they sat in the living room while my brother fell asleep on the sofa.

She never wanted to hold my hand.

The emotions attached to these memories were somewhat suspended out of reach, dangling just in front of me last night. Or maybe the feelings were heavy inside my body but I was floating behind myself again. Unable to feel them.

But the feelings are slowly sweeping into my awareness now as I type this.

The grief I feel for that little girl who kept asking, kept reaching, kept seeking.

The pain for the little girl who stopped asking, who knew in her heart that rejection was so much worse than just never asking.

The anger about how god damn easy it is to hug a child and to love a child. To fucking hold their hand. To stroke their hair. To say, ‘of course you’ll always be loved because you are so very loveable just the way you are.’

Anna, eyes wet with empathy, attempted to hold my gaze for longer than I could bear while boldly stating, ‘Well, I think you can never have too many hugs and the best hugs are ones we don’t give reasons for or feel the need to explain, we just know we need a hug, we ask for one and we get it. How wonderful is that!?’ I slowly let go of the breath I’ve been holding and a small voice from within whispers, ‘I wish she was my mummy.’

It aches so much in my chest as I recall her open, joyful proclamation. As if it doesn’t carry the heaviest weight. I told her I feel like it’s too late. ‘I wish we could go back, like the ghost of Christmas past, and you could work with the little girl I was back then. It’s too late now.’ Anna asked too late for what and I thought for a long time before quietly saying, ‘I’m too broken. It’s too late to fix these parts of me, they’re set in stone now where before they were molten. I wish you could work with that child.’ She nodded and acknowledged how broken I feel and how helpless it all seems and said, ‘I am working with her, right now, we’re listening to her. She feels broken but she’s not, she’s just in a lot of pain. But she’s slowly learning how to get her needs met in here. It will always hurt a bit, especially when you’re unexpectedly triggered, but you will be able to tolerate it more and more as we work this out.’

I talked about the terrifying fights they’d have. The times they split up and got back together. Then the time he left and never came back. The glass door smashed and both of them gone. The fear and aloneness. Me clearing up and looking after everyone.

I shared memories of times when my mum and dad would hug and kiss or even just when they’d talk to each other without me. I’d especially hate it if they were talking to each other in a room I wasn’t in. And the times when I’d lie in bed and hear them talking, laughing or having sex. ‘It made me want to claw my skin off I fucking couldn’t stand it. I’d put my radio on to drown out the noise. I was so jealous and I’m so ashamed of that. I don’t know why I’d be jealous of them. I was put between them so many times in their explosive arguments with each of them talked to me endlessly about their problems so you’d think I’d be happy if they were getting on but I hated it so much!’ Anna asked if I had an idea about where my anger and hatred of them being affectionate came from and I went back and forth with ideas of me wanting them to hurt like they made me hurt or me feeling used because one minute I’d be their emotional dumping ground and the next they’d dump me for each other again. She wondered aloud that perhaps them being intimate and affectionate with each other was very painful for me because they could do it with each other but not with me. It felt like a tidal wave grew over the back of my head and drowned me in that instant. I managed a small nod and looked at the plant in the corner. ‘And that’s where the shame pours in Lucy,’ she said. ‘They can be loving with each other, they can be loving with Daniel, so something must be wrong with me. I want something I don’t deserve. I’m unlovable. I’m the problem.’

As the session came to an end I asked her (tentatively as I always fear the ‘no’), ‘please can I have a hug.’ And just as she always does, she moved forwards and embraced me. And I feel my heart calm, I feel my blood settle, I feel my skin and all that’s beneath it relax. I felt a small part of me crying deep inside. When we step back from the hug I can see on my periphery that she’s looking at my face as she always does after a hug but I look at the floor and thank her as I always do. As if what I’ve just done is shameful and undeserving. Frightened I’ll see the disgust on her face. We walk out her room and I force myself to look at her face before I leave, to say goodbye and look in the eyes. All of me wants to stay, it hurts so much to leave.

As I sit here and type this, I am so overwhelmed with the desire to be near her again. I want to drive to her office and crawl into her lap like a small child. I want her to hold me as I cry uncontrollably like I’ve never done with another human being. I want her to stroke my hair and tell me she loves me. I can hardly stand the want in me. It feels like a betrayal that my heart keeps beating. Surely this pain should have killed me.

A Year Ago Today

I was tidying up my desktop and I found an unnamed word document which turned out to be a journal entry from exactly a year ago. June 2018. It has highlighted two things. One is that I am not where I was a year ago and two is my relationship with Anna has grown. A year ago I was very confused by these newly emerging feelings I was experiencing. I was trying to supress them, frightened by what would happen if they came out. I still struggle with being emotionally vulnerable in front of people but I am getting more comfortable with it. And I’m crying on my own most days now which has never happened before. Last year I really struggled to trust Anna. Now I feel more secure in our attachment… I was going through a particularly hard time when I wrote this. It was Anna’s holiday break and I was feeling very alone without knowing how to reach out to anyone. I am so grateful of that small leap of progress – I now know and have experience of reaching out to people and allowing them to be there for me. I am also better at asking Anna for what I need, whether that’s a phone call or extra session or just extra reassurance.

Here is what I wrote last year…

I have 159 contacts in my mobile phone. One of them belongs to me so really it’s just 158. I just sat here reading down the list of people through blurry, tear filled eyes. 158 phone numbers that I will not call. I did call Daniel earlier but his phone is going straight to voicemail again. I’m sure he’s avoiding me.

I scrolled past mum. It’s been a month since I spoke to her and in another month it will be my birthday and she will not care. Last year for my birthday she sent me a card with a scrawled message in felt tip pen, ‘here’s a voucher, it’s hard to choose things for people’… I’m not people! I’m your daughter. You’re meant to know what I like! She’s apparently in Mallorca at the moment, which feels weird because Anna is also on holiday. For some reason that feels significant enough to mention. It amuses me that both mum and dad have enjoyed holidaying in Mallorca since the time we were there as a family almost twenty years ago. Nothing could persuade me to go back there after that experience. It was the worst holiday ever, and that’s saying something because all of our family holidays were completely shite.

I kept scrolling through the numbers. The doctor and dentist don’t count. Work doesn’t count.

Paul. I must have saved it from that one time he phoned me to ask if we could move my session for a client in crisis. I remember feeling pretty good about the fact that he thought I was stable enough to be able to cope with that. Not feeling quite so stable now. I’m tempted to phone him from a different phone just to hear his voice. I’m eleven digits away from potentially having an impact on him this very minute. Maybe he’d hear the phone and have to get up from where he is, walk across the room, lift his phone and speak into my ear. I miss his voice. I torment myself by looking at some emails he sent me years ago. It hurts my heart more than I can bear. I wonder if I ever cross his mind. I wonder if anyone ever thinks of me. I wonder what it would take to make them think of me.  

At lunchtime today Natalie told us that a mutual acquaintance took an overdose last night. Hearing those words and people’s reactions made me emotionally check out. This small, distant voice in the back of my head was saying, that was me twenty years ago. I wondered what they’d all say if it had been me she was talking about. I got up and walked out the room, out the school and sat in my car for the remaining fifteen minutes and deleted the internet history on my phone. Therapy blogs, psychology today, psych forums, google searches asking for ways I can hurt myself without it showing. Delete. Delete. Delete. Anna keeps gently encouraging me to stop all of that. It’s like an addiction.

My husband went upstairs to settle our son 50 minutes ago and I can hear him snoring over the monitor. I tried talking to him last night, lying in the dark. Told him I was feeling really shitty, that I didn’t need him to do anything but I just wanted to tell him. I rolled in for a hug but he’d fallen asleep.

I feel like I’ve been crying on the inside for days and every so often it seeps out of me and I have to take myself away to suck it all back in. But right now I’m sitting on my own and don’t need to hide it, yet still I stuff it all down and stem the flow of tears. I can’t even cry by myself. What the hell is wrong with me?

I scroll past dad’s number. A few friends. I pause at Jennifer and remember that she said to me just a couple of weeks ago that I could call her if I needed to. I imagine how the emotions I am feeling right now would instantly evaporate the minute I hear her voice.

I stare at Anna’s phone number knowing that even if she wasn’t on holiday I still couldn’t phone her. I am starting to doubt her again, doubt that she cares or that she can help me. I cycle round and round past these feelings of doubt. Why is this creeping in again, I felt like I was beginning to trust her more but is the trust really so fragile that 14 days of no contact can make me feel like I want to reject her before she rejects me? At the end of the last session I told her I might miss her. Those words fell out of my mouth before I even really knew I felt them and the kind smile she responded with stole my breathe. The normalising. The reassurance that she would hold me in mind, not forget me. That we will see each other on the 9th. That she thinks I’m stronger now than I was 6 months ago. Reminding me of the tools I have now that I can use to get me through. I find the stone I took down to mum’s on Anna’s advice and I sit and hold it which helps me feel a bit more grounded. I rub my thumb over the smooth side. I get my art stuff out but I put it all back again and decide just to write this instead. It’s so shit that I need therapy. It’s so shit that I don’t have these kind, caring people in my life without having to employ them to help me. It’s so shit that I can’t just call her or Paul when I really need them. It’s so shit that I don’t get that kind of support from my own mum. She’s not dead but it feels like she is.

In our second session, Anna stopped me at the door on the way out. She put her hand lightly on the top of my arm and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘you don’t have to do this on your own any more, Lucy.’ What a fucking joke. I am on my own with this, just like I always have been. It’s fucking bull shit to call it anything else. No one else can be there for me. Where are you now Anna? Fucking on holiday with your actual family. And I am here, comforted by my dysfunction. Yeah… you don’t have to do it on your own for ONE HOUR A WEEK! The rest you’ll have to deal with yourself!

I sneak into my daughter’s room and sit on the floor beside her bed. Watch her breathing. Gently move her hair from her sweaty forehead. Six years old. She’s still my baby. Some days I feel like there is a glass wall between us. That I can’t reach her. That she doesn’t love me or like me and that I’m not good enough for her. They’re both too precious and pure, I don’t deserve either of them. I imagine all the ways I may be fucking them up. All the things they may need to take to therapy in thirty years time. It’s so painful to imagine all the ways I might be irreversibly damaging them just because I am me. Like an invisible poison seeps out of my skin and is slowly corrupting them. Did my mother ever feel like this? Did she ever sit silently staring at my sleeping face?

Never in my whole life has my mum dedicated herself to me. Never. I don’t remember a single time where she was there just for me and didn’t make it about herself. All my life. She has never been able to allow me space to have it be about me. When I’m in therapy, that time is mine – it’s about me. And I can’t fully absorb it. Then my hour is over and it’s taken from me and I just don’t know what to do with the fucking pain. It’s not enough. One hour. How can this be called reparenting? I need so much more than this. Am I destined to have this aching need forever and simultaneously be repulsed by the need in me?

It’s actually quite reassuring sometimes to read these old notes over. If I felt this desperately alone now I would do one of a few things. I’d tell my husband, I’d message a friend, I’d text Anna asking to schedule a phone call or for an additional session… I’d be patient with myself and know that it will pass. Maybe I’d give myself space to cry. I need to remember that although I’m currently going through a huge emotional shift with a great deal of feelings coming up that I’ve not processed yet, this is progress. It’s messy and sore and feels overwhelming at times but this is the road untrodden. This is what I’ve signed up for… and it changes every day.