A journey to meet myself

When I was a kid I spent some birthday money on a Beatles medley cassette tape released by Take That. I think it was the early 90’s. Maybe the b side of the Everything Changes single. It was a bizarre mix of Beatles songs that didn’t quite fit together but felt familiar and confusing to experience all uncomfortably mashed together. That’s what my last session with Anna felt like. Too many things that were only loosely related to each other, briefly touched on – just enough to be recognisable, enough to trigger something then moved to one side as we pushed on to something else…. and then something else… I guess I appeared to be coping fairly well and my affect was quite ‘chirpy’ so Anna probably assumed I was okay with the pace. Though she did keep checking in with me which suggests she may have been aware that we were waking on thin ice. She also kept reminding me of all the ways I can contain myself ‘when’ other parts kick back as I journey away from her office at the end of the night. I couldn’t see it happening when I was sitting in front of her… I was wrong.

This post is going to appear disjointed because that’s what the session was like.

We talked about how I’d felt the telephone session had gone. We were both pleased with now connecting it felt and how useful I’d found it. Despite reservations about how effective a session could be when it’s not face to face. Somehow Anna related this back to ‘my journey’ in therapy. I told her I didn’t want to be reminded of what I was like when she first met me. She asked me why and I said I was ashamed. She said, ‘ashamed of your therapy journey?’ and I said, ‘no, ashamed of who I was back then, what I was like.’ She encouraged me to have compassion for that frightened woman who came to that first session, so shrouded in shame and yet brave enough to go to therapy. So used to hiding yet willing to try out being seen… slowly. She said she was proud of me for that. Proud that I have stuck at it, ‘I know all too well how hard it is to keep coming back, keep digging deeper.’ I said, ‘those early days of being seen by you were excruciating,’ She reminded me of sessions where I would hide, curled in a ball or with my head inside my top. Snapping at her to look away, begging her to not look at me. It doesn’t feel like I’m completely past that yet, I think that’s why I don’t want to be reminded.

Back at the start, it was as if her eyes were flames and my skin already had 3rd degree burns all over… it felt literally agonising for her to pierce me with her gaze. Shedding some of the shame has been like peeling hardened, brittle strips of my burned skin off to reveal new, sensitive, fresh skin underneath. The journey has been largely trial and error. Though Anna calls it ‘working on intuition’. Sometimes we pulled too hard and it would bleed. Sometimes we took off too much all at once and I would feel cold and exposed and unprotected. But when we got it right, it would hurt yet it felt almost bearable. The new skin that was revealed can grow tolerant of the exposure and a little bit at a time is able to withstand more.

But there is an ache that lingers. A dull, gnawing ache from all the pulling and bleeding, ripping and exposing. I guess that’s why there is still shame. It’s still so much a part of me. I know that I no longer want to be trapped by the taut, stiff shame that bound me and held me captive for all these years. I am realising that the risk of pain is worth it, if it means I can be free… but it’s going to take a very long time to be freed of it all – if of course that’s even possible… the shame kept me safe all my life.

I’m seeing a common theme of this session. The tone we spoke in… it wasn’t literal, clear. It was abstract, metaphoric… we both used analogies a lot. Anna said at one point, ‘I think your child is near…’ and I think one of the ways she can tell is that I start talking in pictures, my sentences start with, ‘it is like….’ or ‘if it was a drawing it would be….’ the more abstract, the younger the parts. Sometimes the describing can be as stripped back as just stating colours. ‘If it were a colour, what colour would the feeling be?’

We suddenly burst into another topic. I’ve never said ‘complex childhood trauma’ before to Anna. But in the session I told her about something I’d seen on Instagram that described how there is no pre-trauma identity when you’ve experienced c-PTSD. You can’t mourn what you used to be like before the trauma. There has never been a life free from the abuse, neglect, pain, fear. It was intense just saying the words to her and she repeated them back to me with total sincerity like she agrees with me. I expected her to say, ‘but Lucy you’ve not been diagnosed with c-PTSD. You didn’t experience trauma…’ but she didn’t say those things. She sat with me in the words, as I was outside the emotional circle (already quite dissociated though unaware) and she, not dissociated at all, feeling the reality of the words… sat with it. I know, but I also don’t know. There was trauma but also I don’t want there to have been.

Another topic change. She asked me why I decided to become a teacher and that took me on the very long version of the story which I’ll not go into just now. It started with me describing the broken teenager who was effectively kicked out of her house. I said I felt like when I finally left at 17 I didn’t know who I was or what the world was. I wasn’t anyone and the world had nothing to offer me. I didn’t have any hobbies, likes, dislikes. I could fill a hundred pages writing about my mother. But not me. I was not a person. I was an extension of her and without her what was I? Anna asked if I felt like a blank piece of paper, like a blank canvas and I very quickly said, ‘NO…. that’s what you’re meant to be, no, my canvas had black scribbles and scrawls all over it. She poured her black paint all over my canvas. It was destroyed. Covered by her.’ Anna asked me what I wanted to do to the canvas and I said, ‘stab it and slash it and burn it. Totally fucking destroy it.’ She silently watched me as I angrily spat out the words. Then I became softer and almost cried, ‘but then there’s nothing left of me. What am I without all of the blackness?’

I started to really struggle at this point and was repeatedly saying, ‘there aren’t the words, I feel like such an idiot. I just don’t know how to say what I want. I don’t know what to say.’ Anna gently told me this was probably preverbal stuff and at this point we could gently explore things without trying to form coherent sentence. There could be sensations, colours, any awareness. But she never directly asked me these questions and so this just lingered for a while like smoke from a just blown out candle. Then it vanished.

At one point we switched to talking about the weight loss journey I’ve been on which has kind of mirrored my therapy journey. It’s been something I never talked about before, but I’m learning to talk more.

One of the biggest things I carry shame about is my body, my weight, how big I got. Even when I wasn’t ‘fat’ my mother would say I was. I wasn’t given loving, accepting vocabulary to define and describe myself. ‘No one will ever love you’….

For the past couple of years, with Anna’s consistent support and gentle encouragement, I’ve been focusing very closely on being healthier. Healthier mind (ie therapy) and healthier body (ie mindful eating, introducing fun activity, gifting my body treatments like massage therapies). A lot has changed. I’ve lost a lot of weight and lost a considerable amount of the shame and ‘issues’ that brought me to therapy. Anna asked me how it feels. I told her I feel lighter in so many ways. She asked if I’ve been enjoying the fitness classes I’ve been going to and I told her, with some surprise, that I’ve been loving it. I’m proud of myself for being active when sometimes it’s the last thing I want to do and I never had any activities that I regularly took part in through my childhood. This is all new to me. I told Anna that the classes are helping me appreciate what my body can do. I feel more ‘in’ my body these days and when I’m moving wildly, quickly, deliberately, I feel like I’ve been poured into my empty shell of a body and I am suddenly very aware of all these sensations I used to numb. Pumping heart, heat, sweat, tightening muscles, stretching ligaments, rotating joints, rushing air, presence. It is so freeing. She said, ‘you’re curious about what you can do, what you might like. That’s a really great place to be…’ I said, ‘also, being in the space with other women, a group of people I feared so much for so long, feels liberating and unifying… like maybe they’re not so threatening after all.’

I told her that although my shame makes me not want to talk about all the places I’ve been and where I’ve taken my body, what I’ve done to my body… this journey is not the shameful thing. How long I delayed the journey – I feel shame about that. But these new and initially terrifying experiences that I’m exposing myself to. The exercise classes, going for runs with my friend, playing active games with my kids, wearing sports clothes. The curiosity I have about finding what my likes and dislikes are as she described it… I told Anna. ‘I feel like I’m waking up!’ She said she could feel that too. That it’s Like the budding of a flower. A new relationship forming. She said I am meeting myself.

Then we moved on again to two or three other topics and at one point I said, ‘I need to write a list. Life is overwhelming at the moment…. I don’t know where to start!’ I started rattling off all the things that were on my mind as if to transferencially allow her to experience my overwhelm. She nodded and calmly suggested ways I can record all of what I need to look at and reassured me we will look at them all.

Then I left her office and fell apart. Cried all the way home. Cried a lot of the next day in between dissociative periods. I’ve been fairly okay today because I’ve been busy/distracted and it’s two more sleeps until I see her again. I have A LOT I want to bring to her on Saturday!

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*DISCLAIMER – please know that I never use derogatory language to describe myself or anyone now and fully embrace body positivity – I don’t believe we should feel pressure to lose weight in order to be happy or fit in. This is not about idealised standards or a belief that you can only be happy or lovable if you’re ‘not fat’, it’s about breaking down the reasons why I never looked after myself, why I ate my feelings… this is my personal journey and not a judgement on anyone else’s choices.

3 thoughts on “A journey to meet myself

  1. slantgirl

    oooh i so feel your frustration! I always feel flummoxed by sessions like this where you jump around. and i also have that worry about whether i’m allowed to ‘claim’ c-ptsd.. my T introduced me to the idea that I might have experienced trauma (I actually started to see her about food/eating stuff, not the past!! ahahah) and yet I still keep thinking she’ll turn around one day and say ‘yeah, but you’re not traumatized’. still, I hope it’s not too hard to sit with the bits that did get touched on today and that it doesn’t feel like too long till your saturday session!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad I’m seeing her again tomorrow. Isn’t it so ridiculous that we invalidate ourselves so much when really it’s very clear what our experience has been and the troubles we’ve been left with. I guess we just need to get out of the habit of treating ourselves the way we were treated as children. Not an easy task! 💕

      Liked by 2 people

  2. LovingSummer

    I also can identify with this doubt. I showed Guy on my phone that I had managed to find an audiobook of the version he recommended for me to read, and he spotted I also had an audiobook on surviving complex trauma. He read out the book title in a surprised tone and I’ve meant to ask him ever since whether he thinks I’m going overboard! But he’s also spoken of my ACE’s, which would support C-PTSD, so I’m a little confused and don’t dare ask!

    Liked by 1 person

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