Strengthening the Adult

Our Emergency Phone Session

After my post 90 minute session meltdown I text Anna asking for a phone session, expecting her to gently refuse… however she agreed and we arranged the call. I have no privacy at home with two young kids and a small house so just before 6pm I got in my car in the dark wearing four woolly jumpers and a scarf to keep warm, drove somewhere quiet and parked up under the night sky and almost full moon.

The phone rang and I answered. She immediately asked how I was doing and I thanked her for agreeing to the phone session. My hypervigilance kicked in and I asked her if she was annoyed that I’d asked for the call. She said she wasn’t annoyed but she was curious about why I had changed my mind because the last time we talked I seemed happy enough that we would have a little weeks break. I laughed and so did she and I started to explain. In a very anxious roundabout way I said, ‘I think the session on Saturday had a big impact on me and I’ve really struggled with the feelings it brought up and I was just so sad and crying all the time and… uh… god now it just sounds so pathetic I can’t even explain properly, it feels like an overreaction asking for this session coz I’m still fucking here so I survived!’ Anna said, ‘it sounds like the session brought a lot up for you and what I would encourage you to do is have compassion rather than belittling your experience, do you have a sense of what it was that felt so overwhelming, what you were crying about?’ I said, ‘it felt so young… the crying…’ Anna replied, ‘hmmm… what age were you?’ It always makes my heart skip a beat when she asks that, I don’t know if it’s because it makes me feel really seen which makes that part of me panic a bit… I said, ‘you know how we were talking about when we moved house and you’d said about it being like my childhood ending then and well… seven… I was seven. I felt seven.’ Anna said, ‘you were seven, and what was the crying about?’ I said, ‘it all just felt suddenly so real, that I really felt like I lost my childhood then, it was awful I felt like I was going mad Anna, like I couldn’t think straight, proper sobbing from the pit of me.’ She said, ‘it can feel like we’re going mad when we tap into these pains that we have never allowed ourselves to feel before, and as much as it feels like torture I want you to know this is really a very good thing that you’re feeling it now, this shows a lot of progress, it’s a massive grief and grief comes in waves as we all know.’ There was a pause and then she continued, ‘What would you say to someone if they just lost somebody close to them and they were crying?’ I said, ‘I’d be with them and I’d let them cry.’ She said, ‘why?’ and I said, ‘because they obviously need to feel the feelings and express them and it’s important to let it all out.’ She said, ‘are you listening to yourself?’ I said, ‘yes and I’m smiling… I hear what I’m saying!’ I continued, ‘but I’m just so used to invalidating myself, it feels like – what’s wrong with you, this was so long ago and it’s really not that big a deal – this psychological grieving, it’s harder to validate and empathise than if someone has died, then it’s understandable that someone would be pouring their heart out…’ Anna said, ‘the example I gave was of loss, someone losing someone, not necessarily death, you lost that little girl… it is a real loss and a real grief.’

I said, ‘but it’s so hard coz I can hear myself talking about this and I just think what must Anna be thinking, she must think this is ridiculous, like *eye roll* when you see a text from me, don’t you think this is nothing compared to what some people have to go through! She replied saying, ‘I know that it’s important to you what I think, but what’s important is that we don’t compare ourselves to other people and that you tune in to what you think and feel, I don’t say this lightly, you know I’m in my own therapy and so I know how hard this is and that naturally we care very much about what our therapists think of us but it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and not invalidate them…. What is important is what you think, not what I think.’ There was a bit of a pause (possibly a big sigh from me) then she said, ‘what’s coming up for you now?’ I said, ‘well you didn’t answer my question, that’s like a classic politician response… so I’m still left thinking…’ she talked over me and said, ‘you want to know if I think you were overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing?’ I said, ‘yeah’ and she said, ‘I believe what you’re telling me, Lucy. I felt it all in the session, that you’d left that part of yourself when you had to leave your home and it was a huge grief for you. A real loss there. That small child, boxed up and kept hidden, forgotten, left behind and then you had to create a new Lucy who learned how to cope with her new life and all of the things you had to bear that you should never have been exposed to. She had to be created to help you cope with it all. You opened the door to that wounded 7 year old girl in your mind and it fucking hurts like hell coz you’re grieving losing her. I was there on Saturday, witnessing, I saw her and I was grieving her with you. It’s such an honour that you’re allowing me to share this experience with you, Lucy. I am so so proud of you because this is bloody hard work and you are doing the work.’ Silence. ‘Does that help?’ She said. I was silently tearful and just about managed a, ‘mmuhu’. I then took a breath and thanked her and said that made me feel much better about it all. I said, ‘there’s always a worry that you’re going to feel overwhelmed by me and there will be this one thing that pushes you over the edge and you’ll be gone but talking to you now I can hear that you are secure and you will keep yourself safe and that this is boundaried and you wouldn’t have accepted this session if you felt burdened and it is paid for and contracted and I’m not asking too much… am I , is that right?’ She said, ‘yes that’s right, sometimes I won’t be able to speak to you exactly when you want and we will arrange for another time, I could have arranged something else this evening but I hadn’t so I’m glad I was able to speak with you… and no, it’s not too much.’

I said, ‘the last time I took time off work when I was feeling like this you said something about how it’s not ideal for me to take time off work every time I feel like this and although you meant it in a supportive way, I felt bad about it, you know?’ She said, ‘did you take yesterday off work?’ and I said, ‘I’ve been off this week yeah…’ Again she talked about working out ways that we can ensure that I will be able to contain what comes up for me so I don’t need to take time off. She said I have responsibilities, at the very least I need to work so that I can pay for therapy (we both laughed) and yes people rely on my… she said, ‘you can’t let the child run the roost!’ She gave analogies about work and about home, that I can let the kids have a mad ten minutes going mental but then I need to reign it in again and be in charge. She asked how I was receiving this, how did I feel and I said, ‘I hear you and it makes sense to me but it feels shamey and like I’m being told off. Like you’re saying it’s bad that I took time off work.’

I said, ‘but I don’t want you to change how we’re doing things, I don’t want you to take that away from me, I don’t regret what I shared with you I’m glad I shared all that… but you know two things came up that I’ve never talked about before and it was two big things you know but I needed to talk about it and I don’t want to not talk about things now.’ She said, ‘it’s just the way therapy works though isn’t it, you never know what’s going to come up.’ I said, ‘but it was good and needed to be shared and I feel like you’re going to say we shouldn’t have gone that deeply into stuff and that makes me not want to tell you when I’ve been affected by it coz it feels like a punishment and I’ve only just started sharing and only just started feeling and I don’t want you to tell me to stop and…’ she interrupted my frantic ranting with a slightly firmer voice (but still with a kind edge) and said, ‘well Lucy, now I am going to tell you off. That’s not what I said. That’s what it feels like and you’re panicking about how you’ve interpreted what I said but I’m not asking you to stop sharing with me and I am not asking you to stop feeling. It’s important that you hear exactly what I’m saying here… you have not been in touch with these feelings for so long, your whole life really, ever in fact, and it feels overwhelming now because the door is open and it’s right there taking you by surprise when you least expect it, so it’s important when we are together that we work TOGETHER on making sure that you are aware of the skills you already have to contain this. I’m not suggesting that you should stop feeling, but rather it’s about that strengthened adult part talking to your inner child in that very calm and caring way that you talk to your own children and saying ‘I know this feels absolutely shit, I know you want to cry all day and stay in bed, it feels like the world is ending… I am here for you now and I’m not going to abandon you, we have to go to work today but we can take ten minutes just now…’ then you cry your eyes out, feel it all, let her tell you everything she’s feeling, then take a big deep breath, you wash your face and reapply your make up and then you get yourself to work. You say to your inner child, ‘I’m here for you, I understand you want to hide under the covers all day’ – and maybe you need to go upstairs in that moment and punch the fuck out your pillows or scream and sob into them… but then you continue, you say ‘we will be able to do something soothing at the end of the day…’ and then you leave for work. You switch your mind to work. It’s not about avoiding the feelings, it’s about not letting them consume you in that moment. You’re not ignoring or supressing, you are saying ‘not now, later’ and then your child will learn to trust that you will come back to it. And if it feels too much to deal with then you remind yourself that you can bring it to me and we can tackle it together.’ She asked me how all this sounded, did it still feel punishing? I said it was good to hear, that it felt more understanding and doable and like we were in this together and she was helping me remember that I can do this.

I suddenly had a realisation and said, ‘oh my god this is a re-enactment. This is proper 7 year old me possessing my body. After we’d moved, I hated school so much I didn’t fit in and I was so sad… fuck I had forgotten this – I wouldn’t even really have to try very hard but I’d beg mum to let me stay home and she’d let me. She’d let me lay on the sofa with the cover all day… it felt like love, I had one on one time with her… I don’t even think she sat with me but it felt better being at home with her… staying home… this tummy pain is what I’d feel… shit!’ Anna said, ‘okay that’s good so you’ve noticed it’s a re-enactment, it’s body memories… emotional flashbacks… your child is communicating this with you. And where-as your mum wasn’t a strong adult in your life, she let the child rule in that moment which is actually quite frightening for a child and it felt like love to you but that complete lack of boundaries and structure is not actually the most loving thing you could do for a child. What would you do if it was your kids?’ I talked through what I would do, that I’d build my kids up emotionally, I’d know it was because they didn’t like school and I’d open that dialogue, I’d let them cry, we’d hug it out, I’d fill them with affirming words and tell them I believe in them then I’d send them to school with the promise of hot chocolate and cuddles when we get home. Anna reassured me that this would be a great thing to do, that it reinforces that they have inner strength and resilience, that I believe in their ability to contain how they’re feeling until it’s time to come home and let it all out. She said, ‘and I believe in your ability to contain this and look after yourself. I know you have the strength to hold this and you have the patience and compassion to meet the needs of your child parts.’

At one point I think I was a bit quiet, although there were far less quite moments than when we’re in the room together because I was hyper aware that she couldn’t see me and I didn’t want to freak her out by going silent. She broke the mini silence and said, ‘I’m really proud of you, you know. I know this is really hard for you Lucy. I really do understand how hard this is. You’re working really hard and you’re doing so well, I want you to know that. Think about where you were two years ago when we first started working together, you have made so many changes. It’s honestly been such a privilege to watch you grow on your journey.’ I said, ‘thank you’ and she said, ‘you’re welcome!’ I said, ‘but really though, really thank you… I don’t know if you know how much of a big deal all of this is. I’ve literally never, ever felt safe enough to talk about this stuff with anyone, never trusted that I could, and now I am with you, and I just… thank you so much for being patient and helping me through all this and for believing in me and sticking around.’ Anna said, ‘I know how much this means to you, I’m honoured that you trust me with it all.’ I said, ‘I really do.’

I noticed we had about 25 minutes left so I went further in to my experience of the ‘kickback’. I said, ‘Two big things came up in the session, the 7 stuff and the 16/17 stuff… the suicide stuff…’ Anna made a sort of kind listening noise and I continued, ‘And I definitely don’t regret talking about it because it felt right and I felt way less self-conscious than I’ve felt before and I did want to share that stuff with you…’ She said, ‘yeah I have noticed that you’re far less self-conscious these days, the shame isn’t overwhelming you as much,’ I agreed and said, ‘remember the drawing I showed you of that corridor in my mind, with all the doors… so two of the doors got opened on Saturday and it’s hard, overwhelming to try to deal with it all. Coz now 7 and 17 are kicking about, flooding me with their feelings and memories and thoughts… so I feel small and helpless and lost and left behind and desperately empty and also rageful and suicidal and self-destructive and…’ She interjected, ‘How about we let the children know that for the time being we’re going to close those doors over.’ In that instant I felt a bit panicky and somehow she sensed my panic in that millisecond and said, ‘We’re not locking the doors. We’re not throwing away the key. The doors are just gently closed over and we’re saying that for now they’re to stay in their rooms so that adult Lucy can get on with life until we see Anna again then we can open the doors and they can come back out. How does that sound?’ I felt a bit emotional, like it felt so holding and so secure to be firmly and gently looked after like that, it felt like a calming of the chaos inside – instantly. I said it felt really good and she said, ‘It’s about strengthening adult Lucy… you have the resources you just need to be reminded of them… So I believe you are now aware of when your child or children are around… a bit like when I give a ten or fifteen minute warning at the end of a session when I notice that your child is still about, depending on what’s been spoken about, so that I can make sure adult Lucy drives home. We wouldn’t give a baby the wheel and let them drive home. I need to make sure that adult Lucy is back in charge. So that’s what you’re going to do. You let them have their mad moment of wild and then you regain control and put them in their rooms… then when we are together, they can be fully seen and they’ll have all the validation and space and compassion they need… how does that sound?’ I said, ‘yeah I really like the sound of that. I like the sound of letting them come back out when I’m with you.’

Towards the end of the call I said I was really angry with myself coz I’d binged the day before. I have worked really hard to form a healthy relationship with food and be kinder to my body, I had lost weight and was feeling stronger and healthier and I fucked it up by eating so much… I said, ‘I’m scared I’ll lose all control and put everything back on and then at the weekend when I was having a clear out my husband basically told me not to throw all my bigger clothes out ‘just in case’ and I felt like he thought I was definitely going to fail and I just felt awful.’ Anna said, ‘what I’m hearing is that he is being the practical husband who knows that we all fluctuate and that it might be sensible to keep a variety of sizes to save money but what you heard is ‘you’re a failure, I don’t believe in you, you’re going to put it all back on again,’ which is not what he said.’ I said, ‘yeah I hear that…’ she said, ‘I want to say well done for finding a short term fix to fill that hole. I know we’ve talked about that hole before, the polo mint affect… that hole in your chest… You were massively triggered to a young place and could have easily cut yourself, instead you ate. You survived, you got through and now you can go back to loving your body by feeding it what it needs.’ I loved that reframe. She said, ‘we all binge every so often, that family size bar of chocolate and full fat coke… we just get back to healthy eating the next day.’ I wish this self-forgiveness and self-compassion came as naturally to me as it seems to effortlessly come to her. But maybe that just shows how much work she’s done. I read today that ‘effortless takes a huge amount of effort to get to’… that’s probably true here.

I told her I slept on and off all day and that I actually felt so lazy and guilty for not going to work. Anna said, ‘I’m so pleased you were able to listen to your body, the emotional exhaustion needed to be met with kindness, you gave your body what it needed. Next week you will find a way to get back to work by containing the feelings and meeting them at more appropriate times but for now you needed the comfort and security of your blankets.’ Again… compassion. I went on to say that I have cancelled things this week, turned down catch ups with friends, zoned out from interactions within my family… I feel neglectful and selfish. Anna said, ‘I’m so proud of you for putting your needs first. You are always thinking of what other people need so it shows a lot of growth that you didn’t do that this time round. You reduced the energy you were putting into other people’s needs, gave yourself time to recharge and limited stimulus. Well done for giving yourself peace and quiet.’

She then said, ‘how about you type up a list, sometimes when we are seriously activated or in a very young place we don’t have the ability to think clearly about what we need… it’s like being in a house that’s on fire and you’re running around mental trying to figure out what to do and you’ve ran past the front door ten times… so let’s set up a ritual… a list of things you can do to tend to the child parts and bring your adult on board, typed up in small font, printed and laminated and put it in your purse so that each time you’re feeling lost you can reach for that list and you’ll probably get to the point where even though you know that list inside out, just the act of going to your bag, to your purse to get the list out will bring you to a calmer place…’ I was listening very carefully and uhu-ing as she went on to give some really great examples of things to put on the list. Towards the end of the list of ideas she said, ‘text Anna and ask for a ten minute call.’ I love that she offered that. She has consistently offered a call and I’ve asked just a few times for one. Only twice she has suggested that it would be good to save the conversation for when we are together. The other times she agreed to a call… I need to remember that she has never pushed me away. She has always willingly offered me more. Offered me hugs, offered me calls, offered longer sessions, additional sessions. There is no evidence that she is sick of me.

At the end I thanked her and she said, ‘I’m really pleased that I could give you this call. I feel it’s gone really well, it’s been really useful. Do you feel it’s worked out well… did it feel easier to talk because we were on the phone?’ It made me wonder if she doubted how it might go with me on the phone, I wondered if she was worried about my tendency to dissociate and how she could contain that while not being with me, or maybe this was the first time she has done a phone session and just couldn’t imagine how it would pan out. I said, ‘I don’t know if it was easier but it was more intimate having you right in my ear! Haha… it was great to have this talk I feel so much better… thank you so much!’ We exchanged some more pleasantries and then said, ‘see you next week’ and that was the end of the call. Bang on 60 minutes. Consistent. Reliable. Trustworthy. Boundaried.

I’ve reflected on this recently and talked it through with a friend and I’m left noticing a fundamental element of my relationship with Anna that I didn’t have with Paul. She has complete faith in me. she believes in my ability to help myself. She doesn’t want to save me she wants to constantly show me that I can save myself. She consistently points me back to myself. Whereas Paul happily saved me time and again. With Paul he gave endlessly and pushed out with the boundaries countless times, I thought that was love, but actually what Anna is doing, strengthening me, taking herself out of the picture where possible and reminding me of my inner capacity for healing, my innate ability to survive… she is constantly reminding me that I am doing this – I CAN DO THIS – that’s real love.

One thought on “Strengthening the Adult

  1. LovingSummer

    Wow, what a phone call.
    What a therapist!
    What a huge amount of work you’re doing together. It’s really nice to read it, thank you for sharing it the way you did.i find the containment idea really new and interesting, I will give that some deep thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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