‘…there must be more than this provincial life…’
When Anna offered me a longer session, it was to make up for the fact that she’d had to cancel our mid week session and as we are unable to meet at our usual time the following week there is going to be a ten day gap. I was actually really surprised she’d offered it to me because initially she’d just sent the message saying she was sorry but the session needed to be cancelled. I’d been unable to reply immediately and within half an hour she sent another message offering the 90 minute session. At the time of receiving the message I was feeling good, strong, I felt secure and happy to have the offer and safe enough to turn it down. I thought I’d be fine sticking to the one hour block. Then I thought a bit more about it and talked to a few people about what I feared would happen if I had a longer session. Would I get too deep into stuff? Would the session drag and I’d struggle to know what to say? I finally realised that Anna was offering me something I’d always wanted, so I asked if it was still available… thankfully it was.
So, I had my 90 minute session yesterday… something quite interesting shifted in me. I wasn’t as nervous or anxious as I usually am just before the session. I actually felt relaxed. I didn’t feel under pressure to hurry up and make the session progress quickly. The extra time really helped me relax and go with it. We started by talking about the dream I had a few days ago of the two neglected, forgotten children. We really looked closely at it and what it all means to me. Anna was intrigued by the dream, her face lit up when I got the bit when I turned around and noticed these two children standing behind me and she was delighted when I got to the end of the dream and told her I believed those two children were me. She seemed really pleased with my insight. We looked at the significance of the children, that the boy and girl represent different parts of me. She asked what they looked like and how old they were. When I told her they were roughly the same age, both 7, she asked me if I could find a reason why that might be. I talked about the things that were happening at that time in my life. That we’d just moved house, my life had changed beyond recognition. Life had been fairly carefree and happy for the previous two years (a somewhat idyllic existence sandwiched between years of neglectful darkness). When we moved house, suddenly it all changed. Anna inquired, ‘would it be right to say that this was the age you lost yourself?’ There was a quiet moment when we were looking at each other, a bit of a stunned silence and then simultaneously we said, ‘the age I (you) lost my (your) childhood.’ This felt like quite a revelation… I know that seems like a total hyperbole but it really did feel like a mind blowing realisation. That was the age I lost myself, lost my childhood. Oh god that’s painful, to really let that sink in. That poor little seven year old girl who was so full of energy and hope and vitality and creativity and wonder. Suddenly she had to grow up and whitewash her colours and dilute her energy and focus herself on meeting other people’s needs. We stayed with this for quite a bit. Anna and I sitting in that quiet room together, listening to the heater click off as it reached temperature then click back on again. I spent a lot of time staring at the plug socket then back at her. She asked if that felt accurate for me and I slowly nodded. The painful, heavy burden I carried. The overwhelming aloneness. We talked about significant moments in my life when my parents abandoned me physically and the consequences of their neglect. How frightening it was to be left on my own. The pressure of having to look after my little brother. Having to be a mini grown up. Being involved in adult conversations, keeping secrets… it should never have been that way. Anna noticed that the way I was talking about the children in my dream was different to the way I have talked about my child parts before, she said, ‘that’s new, that self compassion… the way you’re speaking, that you are able to see that you deserved to be looked after and cared for… it’s heartwarming to hear you talk with such compassion for yourself.’
Having a longer session really helped to reduce my overthinking and the need to control and plan everything. Knowing we had a little more time seemed to allow space for more flexibility and spontaneity. Whereas before I would carefully consider what I would bring up, constantly watching the time or asking how long we had left, this time the conversation flowed more naturally. We meandered through a few different topics that I’d previously avoided because it never felt like the right time or I never felt strong enough to fully enter into it. The theme of neglect and being left and abandoned was threaded through each memory shared.
I said, ‘another time I really felt abandoned, probably the hardest of all, was when my dad left.’ I described to Anna that it felt like I was drowning and just at the point of slipping under the surface, he turned his back on me and walked away. Slowly but surely he reduced the contact we’d agreed so that I hardly heard from him. I missed him so much, it felt unbearable without him. I reminded Anna of the time I’d tried to tell my dad how much I was struggling and he completely ignored my request for help. She said, ‘that must have felt devastating.’ It was starting to feel just like words and my head was a bit fuzzy. I could feel the dissociation starting, the disconnect, I’m much better at noticing it now. I asked her to repeat something she’d said because I forgot what we were talking about and then realised I needed to work on grounding so I put both my feet on the ground and brought the candle to my nose to smell it. I rested my hand on the heater to feel the warmth and slowly my body and mind began to marry up again.
Anna reminded me what we were talking about and I continued, ‘I felt safer when my dad was living with us… after he left I didn’t feel safe anymore.’ Anna asked me what the safety of my dad felt like and I said he had been like a barrier between me and my mum. Though she was always nasty to me, she was also nasty to him. With him gone, she no longer had him as a focus for her hatred, I received every last drop of her poison. I said, ‘Also, without my dad around, she’d let people in the house and in our lives we’d never have been exposed to before. When we were growing up she had these weird strict values that she lived by, she was really judgemental of people and looked down on anyone who didn’t fit into what she thought was the right type of person. But after dad left it’s like she completely lost all of that. She started associating with people she would never have looked twice at before. There were times when people I had never met before were in our ‘home’ and then she would pass out drunk and it would be down to me to protect my brother and me… not very well… from these people…’
I sat on the floor, feeling a bit overwhelmed with the memories. I put my head in my hands and slowed my breathing as my heart raced. ‘It was the worst year of my life…’ I said to Anna and I looked up at her as she nodded, full of emotion for me. I said, ‘so many horrible things happened and… I don’t think she has an awareness of how other people can feel things that she’s not feeling, like if she is okay then we must all be okay… I would try to tell her things and she’d completely dismiss it…’ I told Anna that by the end of the year I was feeling completely hopeless. I’d failed my exams that year, I was becoming more and more isolated from my friends… I had very little to live for.
The first Christmas without my dad, my mother had gave us an ultimatum. Basically we had to ‘choose’ to spend the day with her and her boyfriend. My brother seemed to adjust to this really well but I could no longer bear it. Anna said she believes my bother coped so well because he always had me protecting him, he was largely unaware of everything that was going on… I was the barrier for him. That Christmas day was utter hell. After getting through the day I stood at the kitchen window and watched my mum, her boyfriend and my brother build a snowman in the heaviest snow we’d had for years. I felt so alone and desperate. After an unanswered phone call to my dad, I decided to follow through with a plan I’d carefully thought through for months. I raided my mums medicine box and took every type of pill I could find. I laid them all out on my bed and took them along with my mums vodka. Handfuls of pills gulped down. I remember that moment so clearly sitting there – vodka burning my throat. By that point I was completely numb. Sitting on the floor across from Anna saying the words out loud to her was surreal. She made a noise that broke my heart, like it was painful for her to hear me recount the suicide attempt. I told her that within minutes I was vomiting in the toilet, that I assume my system couldn’t handle that much vodka all at once. Anna asked me if my mum ever found out and I told her no. she asked if I ever told my husband and I shook my head. She said, ‘I’m so glad you’re telling me now. I can imagine it took a lot of courage to tell me, I know this is not easy….’ She asked me what I’d hoped would happen and I said, ‘I wanted it to end!’ She asked what ‘it’ meant to me and I said, ‘my life as it was… I wanted what my life was to end’ Anna said, ‘in the nicest possible way, I’m so glad you were sick… I’m so glad you’re here… I’m glad you’re sitting here with me, telling me this… you were so lucky!’ I felt a twinge of shame as she said that, I think it’s the part of me that always feels like I’m not going to be believed. Does she think ‘so lucky in fact that its likely not true…?’ I let those doubts and shameful fears slide and tried to focus on the compassion on her face. I’m so glad you’re here. Although I know this is all fairly standard therapy chat, I felt every word was genuine and heartfelt. I know she meant it. I said, ‘I’m glad I’m here too, now.’
In a very slow and gentle tone Anna said, ‘if you were able to send a message back to that girl what would you say to her?’ I sat for ages thinking and could only manage, ‘that it gets better…’ she made a ‘mmm’ noise and nodded. After a bit of quiet time she said, ‘anything else?’ I said, ‘it’s not your fault.’ Her voice firmed up and she said, ‘absolutely! It is not your fault. Lucy, IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! None of it. Do you believe that?’ I said that logically of course it wasn’t my fault, how could it have been? But there’s a small part still hanging on to the false sense of control that taking the blame affords me. She said she understood.
A bit later I was sitting back up on my chair and asking her to come and sit next to me. I wanted to feel the close connection that sitting right next to her gives me. I actually wanted her to touch me, like her hand on my arm or something… I still can’t cry about childhood stuff with her and even though it wasn’t expressed physically, I felt the crying inside and wanted to be physically comforted. But just asking her to sit next to me is massive so I left it there for now. Anna was telling me how much progress she’s noticed since we started working together. She said I am now far more able to share memories with her than I was before. She said I wouldn’t go near that kind of vulnerability a few months ago, that it was all drenched in too much shame. She said she was proud of me and she can see how hard I’ve worked at this. It felt so nice to hear her say this, I soaked it up.
Anna said, ‘it feels like this process of talking and sharing all of these memories, all of these parts of you, is very important for you, this is the work. You weren’t ever seen in this way, it’s so important for you to share this now.’ I said, ‘yeah and it’s important that you are accepting what I share and helping me understand it.’ She said, ‘did you ever have a heroine growing up? Someone you looked up to? A superhero or something? Maybe from a book or film?’ She asked me to share the first character that came to mind and I said, ‘I always loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast… she isn’t a superhero but she’s fucking strong, she saved her dad from the Beast, she didn’t conform to what society said she should do or be, she was smart and strong-willed… she even saved the Beast from himself but never violated her values in the process, she was kind and loving but respected herself… she didn’t fit in, everyone said she was weird but she stayed true to herself. She was a dreamer and wanted more than what was offered to her so she just went out and got it. I really loved her… she didn’t need anyone to save her either, she fucking saved herself.’ Anna smiled and raised her eyebrows when I said she saved herself. Now that I’m reflecting on this I remember reading about this hero/heroine stuff in the transactional analysis books. It’s something to do with our script story… things we tell ourselves when we’re very young. Anna said, ‘and you saved yourself from your Beast!’ I said, ‘what, the Beast being my mother?’ She said, ‘the Beast being your mum, your dad, the environment you were living in, the way you were treated, the self harm, suicide ideation… you are saving yourself every day, growing stronger, not putting up with the story your mum told you, making your own story…’ I quite like that.
I’m amazed at how much we managed to cover in 90 minutes. It makes me realise how precious time is. How desperate I have been for Anna to give me more time. More time, more of herself, more, more, more. Now that she is giving me more of certain things (when she sees that it is the right thing to do), those parts of me that constantly want more are quietening or rather they are awakening. The grieving has woken up inside me again, the pain is being felt. I’ve done quite a lot of sobbing my heart out since the session and I’m left realising that this is the point of it all. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT. Therapy isn’t there to make us feel better. Therapy is there to make us feel. And teach us how to cope with those feelings. This is the journey, these are the steps I must take and this is how I must spend these days, weeks, years as I now process what has been buried for a lifetime.
Before leaving I said, ‘do you feel differently about me now after what I’ve told you?’ She looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘not at all, if anything I feel closer to you, and I feel heart sorry for that young girl. I wish things had been different for you, Lucy…’ I said, ‘does it feel okay to feel closer to me?’ and she smiled and said, ‘it feels really good.’
She gave me a really firm hug before I left. While hugging I thanked her and she said, ‘you did so well today Lucy, well done for staying with that, I’m very proud of you.’ I said, ‘thank you for giving me the space to do all this…’ She said, ‘you are so welcome.’ In a really heartfelt way. So that’s what a 90 minute session feels like… and now I want 90 minute sessions every week!