Speaking into the Silence.

‘Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable,’ David Augsburger

Anna and I have agreed that I can send her a message during our usual session time to touch base and let her know what’s going on for me. It was my idea. It helps me to know that she is reading my words. It’s a poor substitute for a session but it’s better than nothing. Under normal circumstances I would have seen her tonight and the intensity of my missing her grows massively on these days. I remember reading once that attachment work in therapy is meant to closely mirror the mother infant dyad. The theory behind having regular, predictable sessions at the same time every week is that it mimics the regular, predictable feeding, holding and rocking of the infant. The tiny, completely defenceless baby has these very basic needs for shelter, warmth and milk and is completely reliant on the mother (attachment figure) to meet those needs. The baby learns to trust that her mother will meet these needs. It’s also important that there are small breaks and ruptures in this dance. The infant needs to tolerate a bearable amount of distress and then be met with her mother’s calm and confident nervous system so that she can learn to co-regulate. When a person hasn’t had this reliable attachment figure and they haven’t had the opportunity to co-regulate, their dysregulation very quickly escalates to hyper or hypoarousal. Then we find ourselves in therapy… learning how to coregulate as adults. So my messages to Anna on therapy days, I guess, are like having the cot rocked, a nursery rhyme stuck on and a bottle shoved into my hands. Not quite the same as being lifted, sang to, cradled and fed at the breast, but it’s better than nothing.

When Anna was ill at the start of the lockdown I worked with Linda because I felt in my heart that Anna would never come back to me. Reluctantly I went to Linda because I couldn’t cope with the overwhelming grief of losing Anna. It wasn’t because I couldn’t bear a break in therapy, it was because I couldn’t hold the loss by myself. This time I know Anna has not deliberately left me and that we will resume our work together so I don’t feel like I need Linda in the same way. Having said that, life feels a bit frozen right now. It’s like when someone hits the pause button on tv at a really awkward moment and everyone’s facial expressions and body positions look uncomfortable and impossible to hold, slightly out of focus. I’m still holding awareness of the moments of total peace and contentedness I’ve had recently, but that’s not how I’m feeling right now. Sometimes I feel as strong as an oak tree and others my resilience feels tissue paper thin.

I’ve been reading over previous session notes to ground myself in the work Anna and I have done and I’m reminded that one of the goals in therapy is for the therapist to show the client that they are worthy of care and kindness and love. So that not only do they learn to expect that from other people, but most importantly they learn how to give it to themselves. I feel like I was just learning to let Anna’s care and kindness in. Just learning to let it feel safe to let my guard down and feel worthy, then the lockdown happened. It’s been 9 weeks since I sat with her. I’m writing out the things I would normally share in a session but it’s not the same.

I read this the other day; ‘Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable,’ by an author called David Augsburger. It stopped me in my tracks because I realised that’s what’s so intoxicating about therapy. I have conflicting feelings about that. Because on the one hand, the therapeutic relationship feels like the most loving exchange I’ve ever experienced. On the other hand, I wonder if I’ve been tricked by the technique of active listening, to feel that there’s love there when really it’s just one person doing what she’s trained to do and another person desperately trying to get her needs met. I’m reminded of another thing I read in the book, ‘Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,’ by Lori Gottlieb. She’s a therapist and talks about difficult people (including difficult clients) and she says that it’s impossible to get to know someone intimately and not find things to like about them. So maybe the active listening, that feels like love to the client, also fosters some sort of love in the therapist.

I’m noticing the duality of my feelings a lot this week. There is a carefree ease knowing that I’m not spending my days either preparing for or processing a session. Alongside that there is an emptiness and a longing to sit in that room with Anna and talk and think and feel and be known deeply. There is gratitude that I am safe and well, that I have all this time to spend with Adam and the kids. While simultaneously there is a burning desire to be by myself, get in the car and drive somewhere, have the normal routine of my old life returned to me.

Nights are really hard right now because Grace has been up screaming and crying and then she wakes Reuben and inevitably Adam and I run out of patience. Sometimes it takes hours of sitting with her before she calms and falls asleep. I’ve read that it’s to be expected that some children will regress in times of stress and I believe that emotionally Grace is going back to younger behaviours in an attempt to increase the intensity of support we give her. But there is such resistance inside me. I have had moments of shouting at the top of my voice at her. It breaks my heart. And I know the key is in the repair but really I’m feeling my way in the dark with all this. I haven’t got a clue how to override my instinct which seems to become instantly triggered by her fear. It’s really hard to meet her emotional needs right now. When she’s crying the last thing I want to do is comfort her. I have an inkling that in order to get through this time without Anna, I’ve closed myself off to my younger parts and it’s virtually impossible to ignore my inner child while meeting the needs of Grace. My Little Lucy is watching and she rages at the injustice.

Yesterday Adam and I sat down with Grace and talked about her fears of us dying and all the changes that have happened in such a short space of time. Last night I sat with her until she fell asleep. She stayed calm and didn’t get out of bed all night. I was proud of her but then wondered if I’m just teaching her to internalise her feelings like I was made to do. It seems I’m only happy when she is quiet and not overly emotional.

Last night, Adam went through to Reuben’s room because he had been up through the night and he must have fallen asleep on his floor. I couldn’t quieten my mind and suddenly found myself flooded by emotional flashbacks which I haven’t experienced in months. We’ve spent the past few days talking a lot about moving house in the near future and I guess my mind had wandered to memories of when I was 7 and we moved from house (again). I felt the grief of leaving the only place I was truly happy as a child. I was crying heavily for hours. I remembered the session when Anna helped me understand that my childhood ended when we moved from the farm and that ‘7’ had been abandoned in that empty cottage. I held Baby and just let myself cry. It’s the sort of crying that has a certain smell and energy about it. Like if someone had walked into the room they could sense it was full of grief. In an attempt to comfort my younger part, I tried to imaging going back to the farm and meeting ‘7’ and holding her hand but I couldn’t do it, she didn’t want me, she huddled into the corner of the old empty bedroom and hid her face from me. Instead, I put my hand on my arm and imagined it was Anna sitting with me on my bed. I remembered the session when we were processing my feelings about ‘4’ and Anna said, ‘I just want to scoop that little girl up and give her a big hug.’ I imagined her saying that about ‘7’ and could easily see in my mind ‘7’ being comforted by Anna. I heard the church bells ring three times and realised it was 3am. I must have fallen asleep shortly after that.

It strikes me that there is a parallel between my experience and Grace’s. At night time our biggest feelings come out. My response is to hide under the covers and cry silently, like I always have done. Whereas Gracie storms out of her bedroom, loudly thumping each foot to ensure we hear her and screams and sobs at the top of the stairs until we come up to her. When I worked on this with Linda she said to me, ‘how wonderful that she felt that scared feeling inside her and screamed out for you knowing you’d come.’ I still feel such guilt knowing that I often meet Grace’s screams and sobs with frustration and pleas for her to be quiet and go to sleep. What is behind this inability to sit with her dark feelings? Is it the ghost of my child’s desire to silence my mother, with all of her overhwelming darkness? Is it my trapped child’s jealousy, feeling like if she must stay silent then so must Grace? Is it my critical parent interpreting Grace’s dysregulation as a criticism of my parenting? If I was meeting her needs through the day then she wouldn’t be so upset at night? I’m noticing a desire to talk these things through but right now I don’t want to go to Linda. Anna knows me and I want to be able to pick this apart and process it with her. She would know the right questions to ask me to help me figure all of this out. Part of me is wondering if my reluctance to go to Linda this time round is because I was aware that it felt a little like I was betraying Anna by going to Linda and that was reinforced by Anna saying she had felt jealous that Linda and I were working together. Anna enthusiastically encouraged me again this time to go to Linda if I need support and I have been in email contact with Linda who has made it very clear that she will be there for me if I need her. Right now I feel stable enough to walk through this by myself and I am flexible enough and aware enough to know that I can change my mind if I need more support.

I’ve been taking things a little slower today. Repeating reassuring words in my head and turning away from the inner critic. I’m holding the grief and longing with compassion. It makes sense that I miss Anna. It makes sense that I want to share all of this with her and that I’m very sad that I can’t. I am grateful for the busyness of family life that keeps me occupied so I don’t dwell on these feelings which I know would only make them fester and grow inside me. I’m remembering to focus on the next step… baby steps. I’m remembering meditation, warm baths, walks in the country and sleep. Reminding myself that we are living through a pandemic that is not over yet, despite things feeling a little less frightening now we’re 6 weeks into lockdown. The uncertainty of not knowing how things will pan out is the uncomfortable thing in all of this. That includes the uncomfortable uncertainty of not knowing when Anna will come back to me.