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.