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A Need for Closeness

When I first started working with Anna, my unconscious defences were razor sharp. I found every reason imaginable to not like her. I found so much ‘evidence’ to support my suspicion that she didn’t like me. I believed she could not cope with me, that she was inexperienced, that she was just a ‘sit there and nod’ kind of therapist. I felt good about the fact that I couldn’t imagine caring about her because I believed that made me impenetrable to the severe attachment pain I’d experienced with Paul (my first therapist). Unbeknownst to me I was terrified I’d fall in love with her, like I did with Paul and then she’d leave me, like Paul did. This was all outwith my awareness of course… I just thought she couldn’t help me and we were a bad fit.

Something kept me going back though. I’m not even sure what it is that made me stay rather than leave and find a ‘better’ therapist. Perhaps my conscious mind did kind of know she was good enough..? The friend who had recommended her to me knows her stuff (being a therapist herself) so I felt like perhaps my skepticism was more to do with ‘my shit’ rather than based in reality. Also, I’m used to existing and persevering in toxic relationships. I’m used to trying to make my mummy love me, trying to make my mummy ‘good enough’… so perhaps this felt familiar to me?

Things started to change very gradually (to the point where I can’t even pinpoint the changes). It was a series of very small happenings between us that slowly enabled me to see Anna for who she really was rather than what I’d imagined in my mind. Her gently tuning in to my emotions time and time again was a massive bonding experience. Also, learning that she was okay with physical touch (hugs and hand on shoulder for comfort) made me realise I had misjudged her. Laughing with her. Taking her up on her request for honest feedback when she’d ask over and over for me to tell her how I felt she was working with me… when I finally did start to share what worked and what didn’t work, she took the feedback with such grace and willingness to adapt and change that I was able to see she was not this cold, rigid, inexperienced and frightened therapist… she was in fact very switched on, very resilient, very comfortable with sitting in her own and other people’s feelings. It’s like having a dimmer switch gradually turned higher. To start with we were in the dark and I had to use my imagination to paint a picture of her in my mind. As the time went on I began seeing the real her more clearly. It’s really been quite amazing to have her become herself in front of me. As I reflect on this I am wondering if this is how she feels about me. Perhaps I was closed off and hidden at the start and she has slowly watched me unfolding, slowly becoming more of myself in front of her.

Recently I’ve noticed a change in how I experience my relationship with Anna. There is a growing trust. It feels like I can be honest about how I’m feeling and she’s not going to reject me. I really get the sense that she understands attachment trauma, she understands that I need to attach to her, to trust her, to relate with her for co-regulation, to internalise her. This has resulted in me telling her more about my need for closeness. Telling her that I look at her photo when I’m sad or crying, to try to learn how to be more emotionally vulnerable with her. And to desensitise myself. I told her that I think about her all the time – she’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. I’ve told her I dream about her… always expecting her to be disgusted by these things, to finally tell me that I can’t have what I want… I’ve told her that I want to be physically close to her, I want to sit next to her, that a very young part of me wants to crawl up into her lap. I’ve drawn many pictures of her. (The most recent drawing was basically a portrait of her face copied from the photo on her counselling website… I was sure she’d be freaked out by my stalkerish behaviour, but she wasn’t at all!) Most recently I told her, ‘a part of me really wishes you were my mum’… she just says ‘yeah’ in an ‘I know’ kind of way.

In our most recent session I said, ‘I keep expecting you to be repulsed by my ever increasing need to be close to you… I’m waiting for you to finally break and shout at me, ‘it’s too much! I’m not your mother, you’re a grown woman, give me space, get away from me!’ But every time I say something like ‘can I sit next you’ or I ask for more hugs or whatever you just accept it, you allow me to have the closeness I need and you act as if it’s totally fine by you…’ she smiled and said, ‘your need for closeness doesn’t frighten me, Lucy, it’s natural for you to want to be close to me… it’s like how your kids want to sit on your lap or want to climb into bed with you in the morning… they want that closeness. You never had that when you were little, you were constantly pushed away by your parents, those needs went unmet… the very young parts of you are looking to finally get those needs met.’

An enormous amount of my toxic shame originates from my mother rejecting my need for closeness. As Anna accepts this part of me, it’s making me reach out more, it’s helping me open up more. It’s slowly healing that buried, wounded part of me. One expressed need at a time. Anna has told me she believes, ‘you can’t have too many hugs’ and that I wasn’t hugged enough as a child. She’s told me that children should, ‘be the centre of their parents world, but unfortunately for you Lucy, your mum was the centre of your world… the balance was tipped in the opposite direction.’ She has talked about how children’s needs are never wrong. That a child’s needs can’t (and in fact shouldn’t) be met 100% of the time by their parents. But to frequently have physical and emotional needs ignored is incredibly damaging. It generates this very deep and intense feeling of wrongness inside the child. ‘I am wrong to have these needs’ and ‘I don’t deserve to have what I want’. This is why she has so often encouraged me to search inside myself for what I need. And asked me directly what I need or want from her. Frustratingly I often don’t know what I need or want, but she accepts that confusion and uncertainty and covers it with a blanket of compassion and patience.

I am a few days in to our second two week break in the past month. During our last session I was able to tell Anna how painful it was to be away from her and have no contact. She received my anguish with an accepting curiosity, not an ounce of the defensiveness I expected. She even offered me more between session support than she has before which showed me she’d reflected on how much I need to feel connected to her through the breaks. I went shopping yesterday, looking for a gift for a new baby in the family. Happily I got what I was looking for and uncharacteristically spend some time browsing a few shops. I stumbled upon a necklace almost identical to one Anna has. She is wearing it in her website photo and the symbol on the necklace is one that I’ve always been very fond of and I actually already have a necklace very similar to it but much smaller. Her necklace is really nice, it was obviously fairly expensive, it’s real silver and has gems on it, the one I found in the shop is much cheaper and with no stones. I have always been aware that she was possibly given her necklace by one of her family members, perhaps even one of her kids… but still it is something that I feel connects us in my mind because I love he symbol so much. The necklace I saw yesterday reminded me so much of her that I bought it. I wore it today and it helped me feel close to her. For once I don’t actually feel ashamed of this bid for closeness. She would say, ‘if it brings you comfort and helps you feel close to me then that’s great, it’s what you need… there’s nothing wrong with that… it makes sense.’ My daughter and I regularly wear matching bracelets we made each other. These things strengthen attachments. It is important that I feel a strong attachment to Anna because that’s the only way I’m going to be able to trust her enough to share the worst most locked away bits of myself then hopefully I can allow her help me make sense of them, accept them, learn to accept them myself and ultimately heal.

I Cried

Finally, I have made it to the end of the two week therapy break. As I write that out I feel like it’s quite ridiculous that it caused me as much pain as it did… I can stand to be away from so many people for longer than two weeks yet this felt like it could destroy me. There aren’t even the words to describe it… it’s like I don’t exist if I’m not seeing her regularly… I know other people with attachment/developmental traumas feel the same way about therapy breaks and I have a world of understanding for them, yet as is always the case, it’s hard to find compassion for myself.

I have written on Instagram how hard the break has been. I’ve been very depressed and desperately lonely… despite keeping busy and filling the two weeks catching up with friends, going to the theatre with my family, trips to the gym and a massage and facial… the very nature of feeling fragmented I guess is that I can ‘usually’ maintain some sort of ‘normal’ existence while a part of me is imploding on the inside. I really struggled to look after myself after having some very exposing sessions (discussed here and here) and then a sort of rupture in the last session before the break. I sent Anna a series of texts the day after that session which yo-yo’d between being angry, upset, asking for a call then saying everything was fine. The four texts spanned a 12 hour period. She didn’t reply to any of them. I pretended I was okay with that but I think it really elevated my anxiety. I was sure she would have looked at those texts with total distain. Fuck sake don’t I deserve a break!? Leave me alone you needy bitch! That kind of thing.

Session day finally came around. I felt very anxious in the morning. I umm’d and ahh’d about sending Anna a message and eventually sent one saying along the lines of please go easy on me today, I know you’ll want to talk about the texting and boundaries and we will but I really need to feel connected to you… this has been the hardest break yet and I’m really scared I’m going to shut down and pull away from you, I really need to try to make sense of this. She actually replied, much to my surprise, saying we would work it out together and that she was looking forward to seeing me later. I felt relieved that she’d replied but also a bit spacey. The drive there was a total blur. I was on another planet and suddenly I was standing at her door one minute after the start of our session time.

Anna clicked the buzzer and said, ‘hello!’ in an unusually chirpy way as if to show me that we were fine. She was the only one working in the office, all the other rooms were empty. It always feels more intimate when we’re the only two bodies in the building and I’m aware of this sense in me that she trusts me enough to be alone with me. I walked slowly up the stairs and went in her door and she walked straight up to me, arms wide open and gave me a big hug. I held on to her for ages, face resting on her shoulder and could feel my heart in my throat, my breaths were quick and shallow. I could feel my heart racing and I wondered if she could feel it too. I wondered what she was thinking… I always wonder that.

When we sat down I couldn’t really get comfortable, shifted around a lot. Eventually I took my shoes off and pulled my knees up to my chest. Anna asked how I’d been and I said I didn’t know. I looked out the window. I couldn’t regulate my breathing and I said, ‘I feel really wired.’ She said okay and she started breathing deeply, really intentionally which made me start to breathe like that. At one point she asked me what I needed but I didn’t know. She said it was important that I don’t censor myself today. I looked at her and she said something about there being lots of emotions I will have felt since we last saw each other and they were all welcome here.

Anna said, ‘what happened after you left here last session? I thought we’d resolved everything and you were feeling good?’ I said, ‘I don’t remember what the end of the last session was like but I just totally freaked out afterwards… all the blog stuff, it made me freak out… I don’t know… I felt like you didn’t trust me, I wanted to make you believe me, I felt like you would want to stop working with me after finding out that I write about the therapy on my blog.’ Anna nodded. I said, ‘I think it’s teen stuff… it all feels really confusing in my head but it was just, I didn’t feel like a grown up anymore, I felt like a teenager… the care you were giving me by checking that I was keeping myself safe online felt really threatening and judgemental to me. You know my mum never gave me safe boundaries, she never gave me a curfew or advised me not to hang around with people who weren’t good for me, she never looked after me like that and when I was a teenager, on the odd occasion that she did try to assert some sort of control over me I’d laugh at her or tell her to fuck off, I felt like she only wanted to be my mother when she needed something, I’d managed to look after myself all those years I didn’t need anything from her now… so the same thing kicked in when you talked about your concerns around the blog…’ Anna understood exactly what I was saying and said that she did trust me and knew I could look after myself, that she just cares about me and the care is the thing that triggered all of this in me. I said, ‘I wanted you to know that of course I wouldn’t jeopardise either of our privacy and of course I’m very careful about what I share, I wanted you to know that and to also be proud of me for sharing things I’ve kept locked away my whole life.’ I started to feel emotional but held my breath until it passed. Anna was being really lovely, I don’t know how to put it into words… if you could see energy omitting from a person, hers would be a lilac hue of fluffy soft hearts floating towards me. Or maybe something more solid and holding like a thick, warm blanket draped over me. Nothing about her presence felt angry or harsh or judgemental… I was feeling her care for me. She said, ‘I became your mother in that moment, your responses to me – you don’t really care about me you just care about yourself, you don’t believe me, you don’t trust me, you think I’m an idiot… that was your mother you were talking to.’ I nodded and really let that sink in for a few moments feeling flooded with emotions.

I said that the first week in particular was just awful and Anna asked me what I had needed in that time. I just kept thinking I needed you!! but I said, ‘probably just to feel everything, and that’s what I did… I felt everything… it’s the worst I’ve ever felt… the last time I felt like that, when I was a teenager, I never properly felt it, but this time I felt it all. I was so depressed.’ I said, ‘Do you remember the drawing I did that was like a corridor with doors going off it?’ she nodded enthusiastically. I said, ‘it feels like in those two really hard sessions we opened one of those doors and the 14 year old girl who was in there… well me… um she came out and now she’s fucking everything up for me!’ Anna nodded and said in a very gentle voice, ‘yep, that’s how this works… that’s the work…that’s the therapy…  it’s hard and I’m afraid it will keep getting harder… we open doors that have been closed for years and the feelings resurface and they feel overwhelming and we look at them and dissect them together, in here… it’s just really awful timing that I had my two week break right after she came out of her room and I wasn’t able to be here to support you.’ I felt like I’d just told her the most crazy thing ever and she accepted it completely. In fact she made me feel like it made total sense.

There were quite a few quiet moments. I was feeling very heavy and sad inside but looking back I wasn’t feeling self conscious, I felt accepted and like there was space for me to just feel how I was feeling. I said, ‘I missed you so much Anna, it was the hardest break, I’ve been so depressed and felt so alone… and I didn’t realise we’re only seeing each other twice this whole month and that’s really shit. I’ve gone from seeing you twice a week every week for two months to just twice in this whole month…’ Anna got her diary out and said, ‘let’s have a look at the calendar.’ I felt this wave wash over me, a sadness or something, like an awareness that she cares and wants to try to make this easier for me. I said, ‘I think I forgot how nice you are…’ and almost without even noticing it I started to cry. It felt like a crumbling inside me, or a melting, a slow shift in the ground like a gradual landslide that creeps up on you. The discomfort in my body when I cry is palpable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly started pouring out of my pores… the shame. I dropped my leg off the chair and started shaking it furiously. I lifted my hand to my face.

After probably no more than thirty seconds of this silent crying, I heard Anna put her diary on the table and she said very gently, ‘would you like me to come over there and sit next to you?’ I nodded. She moved my bag and dragged the other chair right over so the arms of the chair were touching. I was still silently crying, holding my breath in places as it’s just what my body naturally does when I cry, it chokes and blocks and restricts like a car accident on the motorway… a few cars escape and then the rest come to a halt. She said, ‘would you like me to put my hand on your arm?’ I nodded. I eventually breathed a bit and calmed down. Not looking at her I said, ‘I hate this so much, I feel so ashamed that I need you so much… I missed you so much… I remembered the last time I felt like this and you said I had abandoned myself and I know I did abandon myself but I don’t know why I did that… I even phoned in at work I just couldn’t face it… I didn’t feel like an adult I couldn’t cope…’ Anna said, ‘because it’s the only way you know how to respond… we can focus on finding some coping strategies for when this happens again so you don’t feel so alone next time, because it will happen again, this is the work and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, this is really good work you’re doing.’ I nodded, staring into space with my back facing her. I leaned forward and got a tissue, dried my eyes and blew my nose. When I sat back I shifted my body so I was leaning towards her rather than away like I was before. Anna put her hand back on my arm. I looked at the floor and said, ‘the thoughts came back… that the kids would be better off without me…’ Anna asked me if I’d kept myself safe. I said, ‘well… I mean, yes… but…’ she interrupted and loudly, purposefully exclaimed, ‘well done, Lucy!’ She leaned into my line of vision and repeated, ‘well done!’ looking right into my eyes. I nodded slightly and looked away. I said, ‘I thought about hurting myself every day. Points where I was so close to doing it. I stood making the dinner one night, very dissociated, imagined lowering my hand into the pan of boiling water along with the peas… there was a moment where I didn’t know if I’d actually done it or not… I was so gone, like not even in the room anymore.’ She made a noise like she understood and nodded her head. ‘I thought about smashing a glass in the sink and shoving my hand inside it so it would cut up my wrist…’ A tear escaped my eye and I quietly continued, ‘One of the days, I got a blade and sat with it against my skin… part of me wishes I had hurt myself because then you’d know just how awful I’ve been feeling…’ Anna immediately responded, ‘just because you didn’t hurt yourself, doesn’t mean you weren’t in absolute agony, you don’t have to hurt yourself for me to know how in pain you are… Lucy… I believe you when you tell me how you’re feeling… let me repeat that… I believe you when you tell me how you’re feeling.’ It hit me in my chest and I put my head down and cried silently. She believes me. That’s what I needed to hear without even knowing it. She believes the extent of my pain. I don’t need to hurt myself to show her my pain. She believes me.

I had my head in my hands and said, ‘it felt like it would be a relief to just not be here… it makes me angry that I can’t do what I want to do just for other people… I can’t hurt myself because my kids and Adam would see… I know it’s not good for me but I wanted to do it… I just felt so awful and I wanted it to stop.’ Anna said she understood and that in that moment I was aware that these feelings don’t last forever. I said, ‘it is lasting a very long time though.’ I felt completely understood and supported. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before. There’s no shaming or judgement. There’s no panicked warnings or telling me I shouldn’t be thinking those thoughts, she just sat with me, in the feelings. She said, ‘… and did you have suicidal thoughts?’ I nodded. She said, ‘…are you still having suicidal thoughts?’ I nodded. I said, ‘passive ones… just like… sometimes it makes things feel slightly less shit when I imagine there’s a way out…’ she said, ‘have you got a plan?’ I said no. I thought in my head about all the ways I think about dying, every day… none of them are planned out, they’re all just accidental deaths. I told her about how I’d sat with my son one night when he was frightened because he’s started to worry about monsters at night. I sat with his tiny hand in my hand and just looked at it. I said, ‘I know that’s all bullshit, I know they wouldn’t be better off without me, I know it would completely destroy their lives, every day for the rest of their lives, it would fucking destroy everything for them… but it’s like I’m trapped, it hurts so much to keep doing this… life… but I have to, for them.’

I said, ‘I had imagined you’d be really angry with me for sending the texts and that you’d want to stop working with me.’ Anna said, ‘you know that you can be angry with people and still love them, you don’t want to divorce Adam every time he makes you angry do you?’ I said, ‘no but me divorcing my husband is very different to you deciding you want to stop working with a client. It’s totally different!’ She was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘yes… do you want to ask me about that?’ I felt panicky and then shook my head. She said, ‘no…? I think that you do.’ I felt fear rush through me and tentatively said, ‘did you feel like you wanted to stop working with me?’ She said, ‘no.’ I looked in her eyes and said, ‘not even just a little bit?’ She said, ‘no’ again, firmly. I said, ‘were you angry with me?’ and she said, ‘not at all, I was frustrated that you were going to have to sit with that for two weeks and I couldn’t support you like I am now.’ She said, ‘I want to tell you Lucy that when you text me I was in the car with my family, I did read them… it was difficult for me, I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place because you had said you would feel worse if I said no to a phone call but there was no way I could ensure a private call with you, I couldn’t think of a way to reply to your message that would be holding because it might have helped you in the moment but then you might have started over thinking it again, or maybe you would have continued to text me or misunderstood my intentions, so I decided that the best thing I could do was hold the boundary, that’s why I didn’t reply… I held you in mind Lucy.’ I said, ‘I’m really sorry Anna, I’m sorry my texts made you have to think of me when you were on holiday.’ She said, ‘Lucy, you don’t have to text me for me to think of you… I think about you, I hold you in mind even if you don’t text me.’ I said, ‘willingly?’ and she said, ‘yes’ with a smile. She asked me how that felt and I just tried to take it in. I looked around the room and said, ‘nice, it feels nice.’ I started to cry again.

I told Anna about my dream of her giving me a box (I wrote about it here). She listened carefully to the dream and occasionally I looked up at her to check on how she was feeling. She was sitting with her face so close to me and I wondered what she thought of me, seeing me so close up… no make up on. I wondered how she felt when she looked in my eyes. If she felt a fondness for me or if she was annoyed by me, is she glad she met me or does she wish I’d never walked into her office? I told her how the dream had comforted me and reminded me that our relationship is very special, that she gives me things that she doesn’t give anyone else, that are special just for me, that just as much as she keeps her family life private from me, she also keeps our sessions private from her family. She was enthusiastically nodding and saying, ‘yes’ when I said these things. I said, ‘I think you actually do understand what this is like for me.’ She nodded with her eyebrows raised and a half smile as if to say more than you realise.

At one point Anna asked if I wanted her to move back over and I said, ‘do you want to go back over?’ she said, ‘that’s not what I asked…’ so eventually I said, ‘I like you sitting there.’ She said, ‘okay I’ll stay here, I like sitting next to you too.’ She revisited the issue of us only managing two sessions this month with various commitments. She then offered me something she’s never offered before, ‘how about we have a phone call on the Thursday of the week where we don’t have a session?’ I couldn’t believe she offered it to me to be honest, I’ve read and heard about other people having phone check ins with their therapists but I just never thought it would be something Anna would offer. I thanked her profusely and asked if she was sure, she raised her eyebrow at me and I said, ‘okay, well thank you, I’m happy to pay for it obviously!’ She said, ‘Lucy, I’ve offered it to you, it’s fine, you don’t have to pay for it!’ I started to well up again and she said, ‘I hope these are happy tears!’ I said, ‘I just can’t believe how nice you’re being… it just makes me feel so sad.’ She said, ‘because I’m not your mother…?’ and I said, ‘not because I want my mother to be here… but rather because… well I wish… well there is a part of me that wishes you were my mum. I think.’ *queue panic* She said, ‘well maybe you would have wanted that kindness from your mum when you were little?’ and for a split second the proclamation felt rejected, I reiterated, ‘no… I wish you were my mum.’ And she accepted it that time. ‘I know.’ She said quietly.

We sorted some more appointment times and talked about how I was going to look after myself until the next session. When we hugged at the end of the session I said to her, ‘I feel like I should be cracking open some champagne tonight to celebrate crying with you!’ she laughed and said, ‘why not?’ I said, ‘well I don’t actually drink so… uh…’ she said, ‘well, coke and a pizza then!’ and we shared a wee laugh, while still hugging.

I honestly could just hug her forever.

A Letter to My Therapist

Approaching our two year therapiversary

Dear Anna,

You are on holiday and I miss you… so I’m sending my words out through my fingertips to try to scratch the itch of longing.

Recently it feels like something magical has happened inside me. A quiet awakening of a hope that maybe change is possible. In the winter, when I drive to work in the morning, the sun rises as I make my journey. The sky is black and blue when I get into my car. As I drive it slowly turns indigo, violet, brighter blue… towards the end of the journey I see lilacs and pinks, sometimes bright orange and red. By the time I get out of my car, the sky is pale blue, feathered with wisps of cloud. The change happens so gradually that sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘Is it really changing? Was it really that dark when I started?’ Because it doesn’t just happen like the flick of a switch, it’s hard to really notice the change. That’s what this therapy journey has felt like for me… every so often I get a sense that things seem brighter and more hopeful now, was it ever really as dark as I remember?

I have noticed an opening, where there was once a closed and bolted door. When I started working with you, no matter how much I wanted to be vulnerable and trusting, I just couldn’t do it. There was no immediate way that I could suddenly just tell this small child inside me to, ‘just play the game, she knows the rules, we’ll be okay!’ It didn’t feel okay and so she mainly observed from behind the protective barrier. And you were consistently patient with me. Constantly reassuring me that it was important to go slow, the pace of a child, there was no rush, these things take time.

Two summers ago I over zealously preened a hydrangea that I bought when we moved in here. It’s one of my favourite plants and I was heart broken when it didn’t flower at all last summer. I thought I’d permanently damaged it. I am an awful gardener. I appear to kill most green things I try to cultivate – both outside and inside plants don’t seem to want to live with me. My mother seems to be a very intuitive, skilled gardener who has built beautiful, healthy, thriving gardens from scratch… she can’t do it with people but she can do it with plants! I did not inherit her green fingers sadly. Happily it would seem I didn’t inherit her style of parenting either. The hydrangea is such a beautiful flower, the petals actually change colour depending on the quality and ph of the soil (or so I understand it) which I think is an amazing analogy for children and the environments they live in. What nourishes them at the roots can change who they become. Last year I re-potted the plant, fed it and left it be… a month ago I noticed a tiny lilac bud tentatively pushing out between the green leaves. This summer, it began to flower despite my unintended mistreatment of it. Another analogy for children and how they can grow and bloom, despite how they have been hurt. Healing can happen if we put the right care and attention into something. Plants (and people) are resilient. They want to live and be beautiful.

It reminds me of this quote – “And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”-Anais Nin. It perfectly describes how I feel about therapy. The pain of staying small and silent, coiled in on my own turmoil was so unbearable that I had no choice but to do something even more painful by stepping into the brutal vulnerability of speaking my truth to another human being and allowing you to see me… small parts of me, slowly.

This summer I have felt inside myself that you really care about me. I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt that before… to actually feel the care a person has for me. I feel it inside my body… not just words in my head but felt inside my chest. It’s developed so gradually that I almost didn’t notice the change. The fact that it feels easier to sit with you. That your gaze doesn’t make me want to combust. That your questions don’t feel like stabbing judgements. That the caring and affirming things you say to me no longer feel like generic therapy catchphrases.

You have talked about how we get the most out of our relationships when we take risks, take a leap of faith. That people may let us down but that those failings can be repaired with honest communication and a real desire to work towards repair. That if I ask for what I need, I’m more likely to get it than if I never let anyone in. But you didn’t just talk about it, you practiced it and you have repeatedly encouraged me to bring this to you. Consistently asking me what I need, asking if I’m getting what I need from you, making it clear that it’s safe to tell you how I really feel. Then when I did start telling you how I felt, terrified at first and now with increasing confidence, you responded with an openness to understand me, with grace and reflection on the part you played. You’ve modelled a desire to understand the other person and to self-reflect. You have shown me what it feels like to be in a relationship with someone who respects me, is interested in me, wants to understand me, doesn’t want to hurt me. You’ve not been afraid to challenge me, you’ve helped me question the old thought patterns that are perpetuating the hurt. I remember when I first read the info about you on the website and the line, ‘you will be listened to carefully’ really grated on me. I thought, ‘surely that’s the very least she could do!’ but now I have experienced this I understand that I’ve never truly felt listened to my whole life. I certainly wasn’t listened to as a child. Even with three years of therapy with Paul – he struggled to truly listen without letting his own stuff enter the room… I never experienced this level of listening before. Listening to understand and know and help, with no defensiveness and no desperate need to be right.

Recently you mentioned the ripple affect of therapy. How me doing the work I’m doing can have a positive impact on my relationships and other peoples lives. I see that happening all around me. the way I parent the kids, the way I teach, the way I relate to Adam and Daniel and other people and how I then see them relating to me and others… it’s quite amazing really. It makes me think of the first time I heard the song, ‘This Is Me,’ nearly two years ago. It was a demo video and I didn’t even know it was for a film. It shows Keala Settle singing to a panel including Hugh Jackman with all the backing singers around her, ‘…and I know that I deserve your love… there’s nothing I’m not worthy of… this is me!’. The song clearly meant a great deal to her personally and Jackman was moved to tears as he listened. It struck me how powerful the words were and you could see her slowly embracing herself and her own power as the song went on. Two years later you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who hasn’t heard the song and even harder pushed to find someone who didn’t feel like it spoke right to their hearts. The song becomes yours when you hear it and sing it. If someone had written that song and kept it hidden away, it could never have touched so many lives.

The changes that I’ve noticed happening inside me feel like massive mountains have been moving… shifting icebergs. And yet, just like icebergs, there is still so much more ahead of me than what I am seeing. I know this is just the beginning. It is obviously still so hard and painful… the biggest change so far is that I now feel like I can do this.

In one of our early sessions I was talking to you about a session I’d had with Paul. I explained how he told me he’d struggled to pull me out of quite a deep dissociation the previous week and he didn’t want me to upset myself like that again. I said to you, ‘so I never really went close to that pain again with him… I just knew that door was closesd… I mean, that defeats the purpose doesn’t it? I shouldn’t have had to hold myself back for him… isn’t that the point of therapy? To take you places you can’t go by yourself!?’ You nodded and said, ‘yes.’ Well, Anna… I’d like to say thank you for helping me find my way to where I am now. I could not have got here by myself.

With gratitude (and love),

Lucy

What is This Relationship Anyway?

Sometimes the answer can be found, inside.

I have been missing Anna so much. Trying to find a way to stay connected to her. Feeling like the whole thing is a farse. The pain of attachment tricking me into believing that she doesnt really care about me. I’ve been trying to bring back a sense of connectedness. Looking at her photo… searching for traces of her online… reading old session and journal notes… I’ve been thinking about drawing a picture for her or about our relationship but every time I tried my mind drew a blank. Actually, a lot of the time I would dissociate, I guess the young yearnings are too much for my system sometimes.

Then I had a dream. Normally my dreams are horrible and leave me feeling like my brain is my biggest enemy… this one has actually turned out to be the answer I was looking for.

It was about Anna. I woke up crying. In the dream I was standing at the back door of my car which was open. I was making space between the kids car seats and my back was to Anna’s house. There was a lot of stuff all over the seat that I was having to sweep off and tidy. I could hear children playing and laughing behind me outside her house and I knew they were her grandkids. It was breaking my heart knowing that was all going on behind me. I felt that deep pain in my chest like a longing to be part of something that I can never be part of. I didn’t want to turn around because I didn’t want to see them, their faces, her house… I didn’t want to have a clear picture of what I was missing out on.

I knew I was there to collect something important from Anna. We had prearranged this visit. I was then aware that Anna was standing right beside me, very close so the sides of our bodies were touching. She handed me a cardboard box (it was small, maybe 8 inches square) which I put between the two car seats and noticed how perfectly it fitted between them. I was going to turn to face her with my head down to thank her and tell her that I didn’t want to look at her family but she put her arm firmly around my waist to stop me from turning. I knew in myself that she knew it wasn’t a good idea for me to see them all. I whispered, ‘you know how much this is hurting don’t you?’ and in a really gentle voice she said, ‘yes… just get in the car and don’t look back, I look forward to seeing you at your next session.’ And I woke up.

Initially I was really upset about it. I felt like my brain was once again telling me what I don’t have… but then later I reflected and came up with a different insight. As much as it hurts that I am not part of her family life, that I can’t look and can’t know about what she has… so too can they not know about what I have with her. Our relationship is just as protected and private as hers with her family. She gave me the box, a gift of something only she can give me that’s specific to me, that she wont give to anyone else. Something she has chosen to give me, with care and consideration, that fits perfectly in my life… possibly for my inner child, as it sits between my children’s car seats. It was in a plain carboard box, didn’t look much on the outside but was very precious. I knew it was exactly what I needed. Our backs were to her family and she was standing beside me. We were united together in that moment, keeping what we were doing shaded from anyone’s gaze.

She had her arm around me, caring, firm and knowing what I was experiencing. She keeps the work we do and the things we talk about private, she won’t tell her family about our sessions… it’s between me and her. She has to balance both her family and her work. She protects me from knowing about her family by maintaining firm boundaries, not because she doesn’t trust me or want me to be part of her life but because she doesn’t want to cause me any more pain than I already feel. She gives me what she can give me within the therapeutic frame.

I feel comforted by this interpretation of the dream. I’ve wrestled for years with feeling like a disgusting burden that no therapist could ever love, someone that the therapist would want to keep at arms length, keep the toxic waste away from their precious family. But this dream helped me see it differently. That there is a genuine care. That it doesn’t have to be a comparison between how much she loves her family and what she feels for me… that one doesn’t take away from the other. She gives me time, her emotional energy, she reflects on what I need and works to give it to me… and that is a very precious gift.

I Can Look After Myself

Is it a rupture when only one of you knows about it?

On Saturday we had our last session before Anna’s two week holiday break. I was looking forward to seeing her – we’ve had a couple of months of an increasing sense of closeness and the previous two sessions in particular felt very connecting (this and this). Despite the difficult subject matter where I tentatively talked about a sensitive issue I’ve not been able to share before, I felt very seen and understood. Anna was gentle and patient with me, encouraging me to talk but making it very clear that I was in control and that we could go as slowly as I wanted. She checked in with me a number of times which felt really caring and like she was holding me safe. The second of the two sessions in particular I felt something shift inside me. A little bit of the walls crumbling. I felt my self-consciousness melting and as we sat on the floor next to each other, not even talking, I felt deeply inside me like she really cares. In that moment the inner critic (who popped up to doubt the authenticity of what Anna was saying to me) was easily silenced. I knew she was right there with me in that moment.

So, on Saturday I walked in feeling good. I wanted to briefly tell her how amazing the past two sessions had felt and then talk a bit about how I felt about her going on holiday for two weeks… going from seeing her twice a week for two full months to no contact for two weeks. When I sat down I felt instantly like things were different, not bad just not as intimate and close. In the very difficult sessions, where I am feeling things deeply and feeling very seen, where I feel like she is being caring… it’s hard to explain but it’s like a filtered down, concentrated, potent version of therapy. It is focused and powerful and intense like very loud music listened to on headphones… I can’t help but feel it… those are the sessions where I can really feel the connection between us. During other sessions when I don’t feel emotions that deeply or don’t get upset, the ones where I stay in my adult and she doesn’t feel the need to be as overtly nurturing, they just don’t feel as connected – they are like listening to music that’s playing in another room, it’s muffled and not as clear. Unfortunately, the sessions before a break often feel less connected. I have two theories about that. One theory is that I unconsciously don’t give as much in the session before a break because a part of me is pre-empting the abandonment, so I reject her first. The other theory (one which Sirena suggested to me) is that Anna holds us both back in the session, not allowing me to go too deeply into anything very meaningful so that I’m not left carrying any painful residue or dealing with a kickback with no session to support me through the aftermath. Either way I am left feeling like all the closeness, connectedness and warm fuzzy feelings were all in my head and never happened in the first place. I feel like I must have imagined the intimacy, must have imagined the caring… how could I be so stupid to actually thinks she cares. Then I have to leave her office with this gnawing doubt about the authenticity of our relationship and not see her for however long.

So, back to Saturday’s session… I happened to mention that I’d been receiving a lot of messages through my blog and Instagram page from people who had found my words affirming, validating… saying it resonated with them… and I told Anna I felt a real sense of community amongst these people and that not only did they find my writing helped them but them reaching out to me helped me. I was feeling less isolated and enjoying sharing. I had mentioned briefly in a previous sessionthat I’d started blogging but not gone into details. Anna stopped me and said, ‘you write about therapy on your blog?’ I nodded and immediately noticed something change in her. A slight flicker across her face, she shifted on her seat and rested her head on her hand. I asked her what she was thinking and she said, ‘that’s great that you’ve found it helps you.’ I nodded but was sure that wasn’t the full story. I didn’t give her a chance to even check in with herself, I started to fire off statements that I thought might counteract whatever it was she was thinking, ‘it’s completely anonymous, it’s not my real name, or yours… I only share what I’m comfortable sharing… you wouldn’t even recognise yourself if you read it!’ she smiled and said, ‘would I not?’ I said, ‘even if you knew the name and googled it, it wouldn’t come up, it’s such a tiny part of the internet, only a handful of people read it and I’ve blocked everyone I know in real life from the therapy Instagram page… no one could find it!’ I could tell she was trying to give me a reassuring expression.

I said, ‘I can tell you’re thinking something negative about this just tell me what it is!’ she thought for a split second (that always feels minutes long) and said, ‘I was concerned because you’re just in the early stages of feeling comfortable sharing with me and I don’t want you to be putting yourself in a vulnerable place where you could be open to criticism and hurt… I know your adult might be comfortable sharing these things because you know it’s anonymous but it’s important to think about your child… how she feels having these things out there…’ I felt like she thought I was an idiot, doesn’t she think I know how to keep myself safe? I said, ‘why can’t you just be happy for me!?’ I felt like saying, ‘what, so you want me to share but only with you? You want me to talk but only if it’s just you!? Our little secret, is that what it is? Don’t tell anyone else… don’t talk to anyone else!?’ I didn’t say that though (although that should be brought up next time because that’s definitely an old wound). I kept reiterating, ‘it’s anonymous, I’ve hardly shared anything anyway…’ Anna said, ‘I was concerned but you’ve reassured me that it’s anonymous, I don’t know how blogs work anyway and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this so it’s all new to me… I’ve never had a client tell me they write a blog… we talk about very personal, sensitive stuff in here…’ I said, ‘I don’t think you are worried about me, it feels like you’re worried about you – you’re worried that you’ll be recognisable in what I write!’ I felt like she didn’t trust me. She looked carefully at me and said, ‘you think I care more about whether I’m anonymous or not rather than caring about you… like how your mum always made everything about her?’ I replied, ‘hmmm yeah… well?’ Anna repeated that I’d reassured her and that she understood we were both anonymous.

We moved on to talk about a doctors appointment I’d had the previous day. When I’d come home my husband immediately greeted me at the door wanting to know how it had gone and even though it was fine and the thing I’d gone for had turned out to be a false alarm (thankfully) I was angry at him and wanted to just storm off upstairs. I didn’t want to tell him about the appointment. I was annoyed he was asking me. Anna helped me see that in that moment I felt two things (both relating to my mother)… one was that I felt like he would think I’d ‘made a big deal out of nothing’ and the other was that he wanted to find out the results to alleviate his own worries, not because he wanted to see how I felt about it. Neither of those things were true of him, they were both transference from childhood stuff. Anna then helped me see that Adam cared a lot about me and was just showing his love for me by asking me how it went.

I then quickly jumped out of that thread and said, ‘I still don’t feel okay about the blog stuff I want to go back to that.’ Anna said, ‘okay, what’s coming up for you?’ I said I felt really yucky. I pulled my knees up to my chest and sat sideways in my chair facing the wall and not looking at her. I said, ‘I wish I’d never brought it up now!’ She said, ‘oh why?’ in a kind and sympathetic tone. I said, ‘well it’s spoiled everything, it all feels weird now, I want to make you believe that it’s all fine, I need you to believe me, I don’t feel like you believe me (another old wound) it’s totally anonymous, it feels good to write it, I want you to be okay with it!’ She said, ‘Lucy, you’ve done nothing wrong here. You’ve done nothing wrong. I believe you, you’ve reasured me. I don’t read blogs, I don’t know how they work, I just wanted to know you were keeping yourself safe… does that make sense?’ I felt very stubborn and angry as if she was taking something fun away from me. I also felt like she was criticising blogs by saying that she doesn’t read them. I really was taking everything she said personally. (Now that I’m relfecting and writing about this I’m finding it interesting that this teen part of me decided to show up in THIS session… the one just before a break! What’s that all about? I wonder if it’s because I spent the past two sessions talking about horrible things that happened to me when i was a teenager. Like I’m testing her or something… do you really care about me? Even when I’m like this!?)

We moved on to talk about how I felt about her going on holiday. I said, ‘obviously I am glad you’re taking a break, you deserve a holiday… and selfishly I want you to be well rested and ready for all my shit so I’m glad you’re going on holiday! I want you to have a good time. But there is another part of me that feels very differently. In the past I wouldn’t have shared this because it wouldn’t change anything so what’s the point in saying it and I don’t want to make you angry or whatever but now I understand that it doesn’t matter if expressing my feelings wont change anything, what matters is that I get to share how I feel and have my feelings heard…’ I had turned myself back round to face her again and looked at her as she smiled and nodded, encouraging me on… she said, ‘so, how do you feel about me going on holiday?’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to go! I don’t WANT you to go! The past couple of months have felt amazing, I like seeing you twice a week I don’t want to stop, I want to see you twice a week forever and ever!’ I sort of laughed and she smiled. I said, ‘I don’t want it all to change. I don’t want to go back to the way it was before.’ Anna said she didn’t feel like I would go back to that. She talked about how difficult it used to be for me to say anything, that I talked slowly and deliberately with lots of long pauses as I carefully, thoughtfully considered every word. She told me that I’m not like that anymore, I’m far more comfortable with sharing things and can often dive right into a subject without the big preamble like I used to do. It was nice to hear her say that.

I said I was really sad that I was losing the twice a week sessions but I just can’t afford it long term. This month is going to be so hard because not only does she have a two week holiday, she also has a training day one of the Saturdays and on another I can’t make it. Anna picked up her diary and looked at me, she said, ‘I could arrange to come in a couple of Sundays so we can keep up the consistency if that would help?’ I said that would be amazing, then I said, ‘how would you feel about me doing Tuesdays fortnightly along with the Saturdays. So that I’m not completely dropping the Tuesdays?’ She agreed to that immediately and then said, ‘well, how about I just don’t take on a new client, so your slot on Tuesday will remain yours and you can come whichever Tuesday you want.’ I was so touched that she would do that, she would forfeit the money she’d get from a new client just to keep my slot free for when I need it. I told her I’d prefer that to a Sunday and she said, ‘me too, I’d rather not work a Sunday if I don’t have to.’ And it struck me that she actually meant she would come in to the office just for me on a Sunday. I was really moved by this and thanked her for helping me find some way to work it all out. Now that I type this out I can see that she does still care about me. She has consistently tried to find ways to help me within her boundaries. I need to remember that.

After Saturday’s session I freaked out about the blog stuff. I felt completely derailed. I sent her two very long texts (one going on and on about how I need her to believe me and the other talking about how ‘it’s my story to tell anyway!’) – thenI panicked and requested a phone call and then four hours later (after no reply) I sent a text asking her to ignore all those messages. I couldn’t stand the pain of no response and just told her I felt fine now. Told her to enjoy her holiday. I felt like such a selfish bitch texting her on her holiday. I hope she doesn’t hate me for doing that.

I’ve reflected on all of this with two close friends. They both helped me see more clearly what was going on for me. My inner teen was massively triggered by Anna showing care for me by being slightly protective and cautioning me on looking after myself. This type of care does not sit well with my teen. I never experienced this kind of care from my parents. They were never consistent, they didn’t have rules, I wasn’t given boundaries, I didn’t have a curfew, there was never a list of things I wasn’t allowed to do, I was never disciplined in a fair and consistent way… but every so often I would unwittingly break an invisible rule that would send one of my parents into a blazing fury or push my mother to her emotional breaking point. I never knew where I stood. I could never predict how they were going to respond. One minute she’s pressuring me into taking a joint with her boyfriend, the next she’s screaming at me coz she found a joint in my top drawer when she was snooping. I remember her once getting angry at me for back answering her when I was about 17. She shouted, ‘you will respect me, I am your mother!’ I was usually very compliant and eager to please her but by this point that part of me was dead. I laughed in her face and said, ‘are you fucking kidding me? NOW you decide to mother me? I don’t fucking think so!’ and walked away from her. This is exactly how I felt with Anna… like ‘how dare you try to tell me how to look after myself! I’ve been looking after myself my whole fucking life, how dare you tell me what to do…’ mega teen kick back. It’s the part of me that HATES being told what to do. I remember when I’d been working with Paul for about two years and we were reflecting on our sessions and he said, ‘I learned very early on that you don’t like being told what to do.’ I didn’t understand back then why I was like that and I’m not even sure he did… but I know now – it’s because it feels like the person who is doing this thinks I’m incompetent. And it feels threatening to the part of me that had to grow up fast and look after myself. When I was little, care felt like letting a person do whatever they wanted. Anna is teaching me that care is actually boundaries, care is calling someone out when you know they’re bull-shitting or criticising themselves, care is questioning a person’s actions or words. But this all hurts so much when you’ve never had it before. One of my friends likened it to my daughter and how I won’t let her go to the park without me yet. My daughter might think I’m being unfair but actually it is the love and care I have for her that has dictated that decision. Anna cares about me and wanted to make sure I am thinking carefully about my decisions.

Since reflecting on all of this I have modified a couple of things on my blog and the Instagram page, just to ensure anonymity. I feel so much better about it all. I’m looking forward to sharing this insight with Anna who will probably have no clue that this rupture has happened!