Fear of Abandonment

It’s that time of the week again… session tomorrow. I’m feeling in more of a routine with my sessions now – every Wednesday and every Saturday. 3 to 4 days apart. Which sometimes feels like not enough and so I count down to the day before the session when I can pay for it online and get the Zoom link emailed through. So if I’m experiencing massive post-session panic on a Wednesday evening, I have two more sleeps to wait until I can pay for my next session. For some reason that makes the wait a little more bearable!

I got the link through for tomorrow’s session earlier today and I’ve been reflecting on the feelings that come up for me when I see the email. It makes me smile. It settles something, calms something inside me. I turned off all my email notifications so I have to manually log in to my emails to check them and I do it periodically the day before a session. There’s an element of tension as I check and refresh a handful of times through the day until the little spiral spins and up pops the email. ‘Invitation to Zoom session tomorrow’. And relax.

One of my deepest wounds is abandonment within significant attachments. I remember reading recently that fear of abandonment is one of the most common trauma responses to emotional neglect and it completely makes sense to me. Emotional and psychological abuse and neglect impact the child’s sense of self so much that the child has no way to make sense of what’s happening other than to believe they are not worthy of any other treatment. ‘Of course I’ll be ignored, of course I won’t be seen, of course I’ll be silenced or belittled… I’m not worthy of anything else…’ rejected, neglected and abandoned in a million tiny ways every single day. They may or may not have turned their backs and left the room, they may or may not have left the child’s life. But the child’s emotions were abandoned in many silent, ignorable and screamingly obvious ways.

Unintentionally Anna triggered that abandonment wounding repeatedly through our time together because she had to cancel many sessions in our 2.5yrs together (I’d guess she cancelled around 20 sessions in total). It was always legitimate reasons. There were viruses, there were asthma complications (that I realise in hindsight), there were family emergencies, a car accident. I trust and believe fully that the time’s she cancelled our sessions she not only had no other choice but also she deeply regretted having to make that decision. She would always encourage my honesty when we were back together, she wanted me to tell her how it had felt to be let down by her and we would work together on repairing the rupture.

I remember a couple of occasions when the cancelled session had collided with very dark times in my life and the perfect storm had led to intense suicide isolation or self harm. She would fiercely sit with and work on that with me. She would ask for an uncensored account of how her cancelling the session had impacted me. With tears in her eyes she gave me authentic, heart felt apologies. She would never make me feel responsible for her emotional responses but she would openly share how connected she was to my distress. It was very powerful to walk through the triggers in real time hand in hand and to overcome my most feared thing with the person who’d caused the pain owning their part in it and never shaming or blaming me. It was empowering and healing.

All that being said, it also was at times retraumatising. There’s no denying that I could have done with more consistency and a more reliable attachment figure. When we were face to face. Anna was as ‘in it’ with me as she could have been. When we were in the room or on the phone she was consistently present and focused entirely on me. I couldn’t fault her there. She never moved her attention away from the focus being completely on my therapy. She never abandoned me emotionally. But attachment work needs regular, reliable contact and the breaks in contact did hurt me and they weakened the trust which I know is something that Anna regretted and wished she could change. That’s that notion cropping up again… that when adversity crops up you make it work for you – that the thing that gets in your way becomes the way… the breaks in contact became a way for us to work on healing some very deep rooted wounds. It hurt because it meant something… and even knowing what I know now, that she’d eventually leave me and cause the biggest grief I’ve ever experienced, I’d still choose to work with Anna. Because the work we did together has been worth it ten fold. However, I’m learning about myself that I’m aware that it’s important to hold the whole truth. That it was powerful healing work we did together and it also hurt me sometimes. That’s the balance of life. It can heal and it can hurt. It can be two steps forwards and it can be one step back.

I notice in the back of my mind tonight the questions… I wonder if Linda will cancel. I wonder if she’ll forget our session. I wonder if she’ll just not send the link. I expect abandonment, still. And therefore when the link is sent it feels a little safer to relax and trust that she’ll be there. But Anna had cancelled sessions sometimes a few hours before the session so really even a link sent the day before can’t be trusted. I’ve noticed that often my heart isn’t really in it until Linda’s face is on the screen. Then my body and heart and soul can believe she’s really going to be there. Maybe that explains the pre-session anxiety. The sheer panic I feel right up to the beginning of the session. I’m expecting abandonment right up to the moment of proof. I may bring this up in session tomorrow… providing it goes ahead 😉

The Antidote to Developmental Trauma is Joy

Session number 14 with Linda.

I started the session very activated and feeling stressed and not at all ready for a session. I explained that both kids had just kicked off moments before logging on because despite me preparing them that I was going to need time later for a video meeting, when the time arrived they both decided to have a meltdown about me ‘leaving them’ to go upstairs. I explained to Linda that through the lockdown we’ve spent a huge amount of concentrated time together and so now whenever I say I’m going to do something by myself they seem to get really unsettled. It’s created a sort of anxiety/dependency that was never there before and I’m going to need to work on it with them to ensure transition back to school and work is as stress free for them as possible. Also the anxiety is there for Adam as well. He’s always found it hard in the past when I’ve gone out and done things without him. He’s not controlling and possessive its more that he is very worried that he’s going to lose me. He reacts in a really pronounced way if I say I’m going out. I explained to Linda, ‘It happened just yesterday, I said I was going for a drive and he was like, ‘what, where are you going, why… what a waste of fuel…?’ and I asked him what emotional response he was feeling and he said panic… it triggers something in him like he thinks I’m never coming back, but it feels like I’m suffocating you know, I need to go out!’ Linda sort of reiterated this back to me and seemed interested in what I was saying about Adam. I told her that yesteray I ended up back at Anna’s office again. Sitting in my car crying. She made a sort of sympathetic noise. She asked me if there was anything I could do right now to help me feel calmer during the call to make the most of the session because I was still clearly so agitated and she said, ‘anything that you know works?… breathing…?’ I burst out laughing and we both said, ‘breathing’s always a good idea!’ It was a funny moment and in the end I said I just needed to talk through it.

We explored the sense of having no alone time at home. She said it must be really challenging to try to get in the right headspace for a session when that’s all going on around me. I talked about how I used to leave the house and drive to my sessions at least an hour before the start time but being at home there’s no privacy, it’s very hard to relax. Linda pointed out that I seemed really preoccupied with the energy left behind after the madness with the kids and the more I talked about it she noticed the angrier I got. I was explaining that I get very little time to myself and then it’s almost as if Adam resents the time I spend on my sessions because he doesn’t make a concerted effort to placate the kids in order for me to get the quiet I need. (Adam has told me he doesn’t feel like this and that he does his best to give me the space I need but that he finds the kids challenging).

I told Linda that about twenty minutes before the video call, Reuben had asked if they could go to the new sweet shop and just like he always does Adam immediately said no. This provoked the screaming and crying from Reuben… it’s a fairly common game that’s regularly played out. I said, ‘you know I’ve tried explaining to Adam that life is fucking hard for kids, they get to have hardly any control over anything in their lives, they just have to go along with whatever the adults say and to have this huge man looming over him saying ‘no’ to his requests must make him feel so frustrated and powerless like he doesn’t have any say in the matter… I’ve told Adam it’s really easy to let kids feel like they have more power you know, you could say yes to the sweets but only one. It’s about seeing the need for them to be little autonomous people and meeting them half way!’ Linda was nodding and smiling and agreeing. I sort of paused and said I wasn’t expecting the session to go down this rabbit hole and she suggested I trust the process… that this is where things are going today and that’s okay. She explained that sometimes whatever has just happened ‘in real time’ needs to be focused on and the childhood stuff will always be there for us to come back to. In the back of my mind I was wondering if she’d taken in what I said in the email I sent on Saturday but she didn’t bring it up until the end of the session.

I said that I felt like my perfectionism kicks in when we have these moments and I get really very annoyed with Adam for fucking up with the kids when I so desperately want him to be sensitive to their needs and attune to them. I find it hard to forgive him like I find it hard to let go of my own shortcomings. I hold us both to really high standards and just feel like we shouldn’t have even had kids if we weren’t prepared to work very hard on ourselves and purposefully break the chain and not pass this shit down. Linda said, ‘Hmm yeah you want to break the chain. Is there such a thing as a perfect parent do you think?’ I looked at her and perhaps had an expression on my face that looked unamused by the question because she then said, ‘Genuine question Lucy, is there such thing as a perfect parent? I really want to hear what you think about that.’ I said, ‘Obviously I know that no one is perfect. We are all human and we make mistakes… and I know Anna told me the key is in the repair but I just feel like you should really limit the amount of repairs you’re having to do. I think what I mean is, I have an idea of the kind of parent I want to be and it’s someone who has done the work on themselves, knows their personal triggers and doesn’t respond to them by reacting defensively or automatically with their kids, is aware of themselves and the impact they have on their kids… so when Adam or I react in the heat of the moment I really worry that we’re messing them up and they’re gonna be scarred for life.’ I can’t remember what she said here. She didn’t challenge me. I’m reflecting on this now and I get this sense that she is trying to be very careful with what she says to me. I remember this dynamic would play out with Anna too at times, especially in the early days. I like that she is being more sensitive in regard to what she says but also I don’t want her to say nothing at all! I do want some interaction and challenge around these things. But it’s like session number 14 so maybe that will come.

I said, ‘it annoys me that Adam has this knee jerk reaction to everything. He just says no to everything, whether it’s going somewhere, seeing someone, going on holiday, a weekend activity, a film, a take away… he says no initially every single time and then you have to sort of talk him round and let the idea sit with him and he’ll mull it over and then he’ll eventually come round. Afterwards he’ll say that I was right and he’s really glad we did it.’ Linda asked if I’d talked to him about it before and I said we had. She said, ‘I ask because I know what it’s like to live with an automatic no-er… personal experience with that one! Yup…’ she sort of gestured her head behind me to presumably the rest of her house and laughed and I laughed and I said, ‘yeah drives you fucking nuts doesn’t it!’ She said, ‘at least he’s consistent!’ and I agreed that I love that about him. That he is consistent, reliable and predictable. It feels so safe. I continued, ‘So anyway yeah I have talked to him but the thing is there are deep rooted reasons why he is like that you know, it’s a fear response, it’s an, ‘I don’t want to be taken out of my comfort zone,’ response or a need for control and order… so he knows he does it and he’s really open to feedback and talking about it but it’s gonna take a lot for him to change it. Years of therapy to unpick the deep reasons why he is like that and he just is not up for that, he’s come up with so many reasons why it can’t work out.’ Linda said, ‘the timing’s not right… he’s not ready to go to therapy?’ and I said, ‘yeah he blames money or that he doesn’t have the time… he’s not ready and I don’t know if he ever will be. I love him and I want him to have what I’ve experienced, you know, he deserves to get some relief from what he’s going through but well, I’ve talked to him about that a lot. Anna told me to back off she said I’ve planted many seeds and it has to come from him!’ Linda laughed.

I said, ‘the problem is, it impacts me massively. He only has me to talk to, he doesn’t have any friends, it’s been a slow and gradual narrowing down of his life so that it is just me now,’ I made a visual with my hands like a funnel going from wide at the top to narrow at the bottom. I continued, ‘It’s a big pressure resting on my shoulders. So if he is stressed or worried or needs to talk to someone – I am it, I’m the only one he has.’ Linda was reacting massively to this and saying, ‘wowww, oh wow yeah I mean that’s a huge amount of pressure for you.’ And she mirrored the visual with her hands. I told her, ‘I resent it because I go to therapy so that I don’t burden people in my life with my shit. The therapeutic relationship is a unique one and it really is necessary to have these strict boundaries around it, it’s not healthy to rely heavily on one person in your life. The thing is it’s not always been like this, he used to have loads of friends but slowly that’s all gone away and now he’s not even on speaking terms with his family so literally I’m the only person he speaks to.’ I then spent about half an hour telling her what life was like for us from when we met. That I’d never known anyone like him before. He was so lively and enthusiastic and funny and he knew so many people. He was gigging a lot and wherever we went we’d meet lots of people who knew him and who were clearly so pleased to see him. When we moved in together we were only 18/19 and the only ones out of all our friends who lived away from him so our place ended up being the place we all met up. We had loads of parties, nights drinking, movie nights, dinner parties… we had at least one friend over every day… and although I was really struggling with the aftermath of everything I’d experienced growing up, it was like an awakening… I’d never had so much fun. I mean I was actively suicidal at points and self harming frequently and cried a lot by myself and found intimacy with Adam really hard and would cry when we were intimate but it was like being given the freedom to be together and be me. I could eat what I wanted, do what I wanted, behave however I wanted.

Linda interjected and said, ‘This reminds me of something I read the other day… this is just a slight side and then you can continue… it was exploring the concept that the antidote to developmental trauma is joy. Just listening to this moment where you met Adam and your life really started to open up and it sounds like you just absolutely ran with it, you really made the most of it… SO yeah… joy… Is that something that resonates with you?’ I nodded and smiled and sort of inquisitively watched her as she explained more about the lack of joy in the child’s experience when they are living through trauma… I told her there was very little joy in my life apart from the fun my brother and I made together. In my head I was just thinking ‘YOU’RE READING ABOUT DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA!? Yay!’ I love love love that she managed to slip that into the session… she didn’t outwardly say ‘I’m reading up on this shit for you so I understand you better’ but it felt like an intentional piece of information that she wanted to give me. She wanted me to know that she’s taking this seriously and I really appreciated it. I felt a part of me relax a little when she was saying it… like ‘this feels safe’ or something. Also, I’ve been pondering this all evening… ‘the antidote to developmental trauma is joy’ and I looked it up online and there is a wealth of information about how joy and fun and playfulness soothes and heals trauma wounding. It made me feel so reassured to think about all the joy and playfulness my kids have on a daily basis… that maybe, even if things are hard and I accidentally traumatise them with my unhealed bits, the joy might help override some of that.

I talked about my parents refusing to drive me places and how suffocating it felt to be trapped where I was with no escape. I went from one memory to another giving examples of how powerless I was to my parents whims and that in an instant they could choose whether or not they’d give me what I needed. I told her of a time it completely broke me when everything came to a crescendo and I slammed the landline down while talking to my mum. Repeatedly hit it off the stand so hard that it shattered. I then broke down on my knees in front of my dad who turned and walked away from me. Rather than trying to meet my needs which he could easily have done. She said, ‘so much rage in you, understandably and then you actually collapsed and he still didn’t see you. They had all the power and control.’ I said, ‘I think that’s why I cant stand it when it seems that my kids feel powerless. I never want them to feel like that. It’s paralysing.’ During one of the anecdotes Linda paused me and asked me what was coming up for me and where I could feel it in my body. I don’t know how I’d been behaving I think maybe I’d crossed my arms and was looking out the window talking. I said I could feel something in my chest and pointed to it. I said it feels a bit like panic and it was tingling down my arms. I told her that sometimes happens when I feel like I’m oversharing and then there’s another emotion under the panic. She said she was intrigued by the feeling being in my heart. I said that’s where I feel young pain, attachment wound stuff… stuff to do with longing and an ache for childhood or grief for Anna. She was nodding and listening. We talked quite a bit more about memories from Adam and my first date, all the flats we lived in, some weird and some scary experiences we had in the dodgy places we lived and I said I didn’t know why told her half that stuff. She said it had been nice to hear more about me and nice to see me smile so much today.

I talked about how no one took our relationship seriously. My mum told me Adam would very quickly get sick of me and move on. She said, ‘the things you think you love about each other will become the things that drive you apart in the end.’ She said I didn’t know the first thing about love. And I recalled how my dad had laughed at me when I said we were engaged. Linda asked me what I thought he had found funny and I said, ‘he’d have been thinking I was a silly little girl and didn’t know what I was doing.’ They both turned their backs on me repeatedly, especially in times of need. There were nights I had nowhere to go, neither of them wanted me around. Nights we sat on the underground for hours just to have somewhere dry and warm to stay. Linda said, ‘Them turning their backs on you made you and Adam turn more towards each other. It strengthened what you had.’ I said, ‘yeah I’ve thought a lot about attachment and love and wondered about whether we’re only ever seeking to get our unmet attachment needs met… and now I’m growing and healing and changing I don’t need to be so intensely turned in to him but he is still the same, which triggers his anxiety.’

I felt like Linda was very attuned to me today. She was listening and engaging in what I was saying but I still felt like I talked a lot and at the end of the session I panicked and said, ‘aaah I’ve done it again I’ve talked and talked and we now only have 3 minutes to go!’ Linda said, ‘oh but I’ve really been so aware of this need you have to share all of this with me. There’s a very strong part of you that wants me to know these things about you. I’ve been holding awareness throughout the session of what you said in your email, that you feel like you share too much and don’t go deeply into things and then you’re left with the feelings. I really paid attention to that. But today I’m very aware of this pattern where you start talking about one thing and then you build up speed and then you want to share all this with me. I know there is the part of you that feels like you’re racing through lots of different subjects but I wonder if you can hold space for the part of you that feels she wants to share these things with me and that it’s some sort of overview you’re giving me. Sometimes that happens at the start of therapy, you’re giving me the backstory you talked about early on, so that I get to know you better. You feel like it’s important I know you… maybe it will be easier to share the deeper stuff when you feel that I know you better?’ I was actually leaning forwards watching her very carefully as she explained this and I said it really felt true actually and it will feel safer to go more deeply into things if she has a broader understanding of who I am and my life experiences. She asked if it felt okay that she’d said that and I said I was really pleased she’d clarified it with me. She actually ran over by 2 minutes explaining that to me and although 2 minutes is nothing, it felt nice that she was prioritising helping me understand how she felt about what I’m doing rather than prioritising the boundary of time. I told her that 50 minutes wasn’t long enough and she agreed. I’m going to talk about that at some point. That Anna was 60 minutes which often didn’t feel long enough and that 90 minutes was a good length of time… see what she says. Maybe if she’s reading up on attachment trauma she will have read that it’s quite challenging to do the work in tiny 50 minute blocks.

I left the session feeling really good and I’ve felt settled and regulated all day. I really like the idea of her holding awareness of the part of me that wants her to know me while also holding the part of me that feels over exposed. That feels so reassuring and like she understands me. It helped having her clarify that because I think one of the reasons I was so anxious after the information overload sessions was this fear that she would be thinking badly of me for doing it. Knowing she actually understands and thinks it’s useful is really reassuring. Like a friend described to me, it’s like I’m sketching a picture for her in pencil… making sure the whole thing is roughly filled in so she gets an idea of the whole image, then I will go back and add details and colours and shading… I’ll get to the deeper stuff but she has to have a good grasp of the bigger picture first. I like that.

If no one comes, it IS life or death.

Ponderings about preverbal developmental trauma stuff…

Before I had kids I read about different parenting styles – anything attachment/gentle/respectful/responsive. Even though I hadn’t explored my own experience with childhood trauma much I knew in my heart there had to be a better way to parent.

My mum wasn’t responsive to any of my emotional needs but she became a whole other level of inaccessible at night time. It was known that you just did not wake my mum up. I clearly remember not being allowed to go to my her at night no matter what happened. I’ve blogged before about my memories of crawling in her room and secretly sleeping under her side of the bed when I had nightmares. I may not remember what nights were like as a baby but I know she wouldn’t have been able to meet my needs even then. I do have a strange half memory of a room and bars and a broken mobile playing Brahms lullaby and a closed door and the muffled noises on the other side of the door and no one coming. I’ve been told that even in my first 48 hours of life she refused to give me what I needed. She wouldn’t have me with her because she needed to rest and she didn’t want me to be fed milk without her so I was fed distilled water by my dad until she was ready to see me. I know she left me to cry.

I had a number of friends who had babies around the same time I had mine. There have been many different parenting opinions discussed over the years. I’ve got friends who sleep trained their babies. Infuriated by the baby’s constant need to be held or fed they desired to leave them. They’d tell me they just left them to ‘cry it out’ and eventually they ‘learned’ to sleep through the night. I witnessed it a couple of times. One friend even told me she used eat plus so she could get a good night sleep and not hear her baby crying. ‘She’s fine, shes has everything she needs. She’s just got into a bad habit and needs to learn to stay asleep.’

It doesn’t work that way! Babies can’t be taught how to self soothe by being abandoned. What happens is the baby’s flight/fight response kicks in when they realise no one is coming and their reptilian brain tells them, ‘This is catastrophic, my life source is not coming back. Stop crying, everyone’s dead and if you keep making noise the sabertoothed tiger will kill you too!’ Their system shuts down. Sometimes these babies become really docile and compliant. Seemingly ‘good babies’. It’s because they’re in survival mode. They know their cries won’t be answered and I’m fact they know that if they cry ‘too much’ then their caregiver will leave them alone, close the door and not come back until they’ve been quiet enough for long enough.

This is just one of many examples of how developmental trauma starts to take grip before we even lay down our sense-making memories that can be communicated in words or pictures. This is somatic. Pre-verbal. So when we’re sitting in the therapist’s office saying, ‘I can’t put it into words, I just feel like I’m dying, the need is so massive, it’s bigger than me…’ You are experiencing an emotional flashback – feeling the unmet needs of your tiny infant part that was neglected and ignored as s/he cried out for milk and comfort. And it was bigger than you and it did feel like you were dying. It is life or death. You need the warmth and protection of your caregiver. Without it, you will die.

This isn’t about shaming people. Being a new parent is the most overwhelming experience, especially if you’ve experienced childhood trauma yourself. I had post natal depression, I know how hard it can be. There were times I wanted to run away. We still don’t get a full night sleep and my kids are 8 and 4. It’s exhausting! We’re constantly up and down in the evening and through the night and sometimes it feels like it’s going to break me. But I committed to not passing this pain on. I will not bring a life into the world who is defenceless and depends on me, to then turn my back. Even if I’m crying silently on the floor beside them holding their tiny hand, I’m not leaving that room until they feel secure enough for me to leave.

That’s what it’s all about… ‘you’re only as needy as your unmet needs’… meet the child’s needs and they will, in time, develop and change and grow past the need. Those of us sitting in the therapy room trying to heal these wordless developmental traumas didn’t have these very basic, primal, life or death needs met and so guess what… we still need them to be met. Being a parent has given me a moment by moment window into all of this. I see it playing out in front of me. And it’s far easier to meet the baby needs as they developmentally come up than to restore the adult carrying the heavy weight of the motherwound.

I Wish You Could See Yourself the Way I See You

It’s so complicated, grieving the loss of your therapist. It’s not like ‘normal grief’ – I didn’t get a funeral where I could process and mourn with a group of people who understood my loss. I didn’t get to sit on a bench and sob into tissues surrounded by people who shared my pain. I didn’t get to take time off work for bereavement. There was no simple way to communicate the grief to work acquaintances so that they would know what I’m going through without knowing too much about me. I didn’t receive cards with condolences and kind words about all the beauty in the person that I’ve lost. Shared memories and funny anecdotes. There’s none of that. No one else even knew she existed. I can’t burst into tears while putting the bins out, knowing that my neighbours had heard the news and would understand… No one heard because it’s a secret part of my life that no one knows about. I didn’t get to tell my friends, ‘I feel like a piece of me has died with her… now that she’s gone.’ To share my loss would mean sharing my trauma history. I can’t even summarise and say that a close person to me has died… people expect more details. And what does she equate to..? A close family friend? A distant relative..? Why is no one else mourning then..? It’s not that simple. If I was to say, ‘my therapist stopped working with me,’ I imagine a chorus of, ‘it’s not like your mother died,’ streaming back at me. People wouldn’t understand. Even if they themselves had ‘had counselling’… it’s not the same… unless you’ve experienced deep attachment wounds and have formed a loving connection with a long term therapist, you won’t understand this loss. I know because a few years ago I wouldn’t have understood. So there is no outward grieving. This all has to happen in secret.

So this community became my church. I held the funeral on this page and people who deeply relate came and mourned with me, shared their heartfelt sentiments. Told me of the ways our work had touched them. I haven’t been held in the arms of a loved one while I broke my heart crying over this loss. I’ve done it by myself. Alone and in the written word.

It’s not like ‘normal grief’ – it’s worse. It’s mixed up with all of the pain from all of my wounding. It’s a far greater loss than if my mum died. That would be no real loss at all. She doesn’t play a role in my life and I wouldn’t notice her absence. Anna actively loved me. And she made my life better… each session brought me a little more relief and a little deeper understanding. I miss sitting with someone who really knows me. I miss being with someone who unconditionally cares for me. I couldn’t feel it half the time when I was sitting right in front of her but I feel it now. Fucking disorganised attachment ruining the moments I had what I needed. The fucking wall between us… and now that she’s gone there is no wall! Now she’s ‘abandoned’ me I can feel it all… of course I can! I want to go back in time with what I know now. Ask for the hugs and holding hands. Tell her I love her no matter what she says back. Look her in the eyes when I talk to her and feel her presence. I can’t believe I’m never going to see her again.

‘I wish you could see yourself the way I see you, Lucy.’ Ohhh Anna and now there’s no one in my life who sees me that way. It’s taking all of my strength and all of my love for her to not scroll down my messages and send her a text. But I know it would put her in a really difficult position. I just want to tell her I still think about her every day and that I want to find a way to make it work again… the restrictions are easing all around me but she has to stay locked away. I vividly remember her sitting in front of me tapping the table between us and saying, ‘touch wood I have no intention of going anywhere, Lucy! I’m here until you don’t need me anymore… unless sickness or death separates us. I’m not going to abandon you.’ She would never have chosen to end things this way. It wasn’t what either of us wanted. Who could have known what was coming. If it wasn’t for this virus, I’d still have her. It’s because of the lockdown she got so sick and because of the restrictions she had no choice but to close her practice. I keep imagining one day in the future her getting in touch with me to say she’s started up again… but it wouldn’t be the same. It feels like torture that I can’t process this with her. Absolute torture.

Tip of the Iceberg

If childhood defines you
Can it ever be behind you?

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with my brother. I sent him this message, ‘I just wanted to say that despite what happened last week being difficult and misattuned that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to ask how I’m doing. I’m going through the worst grief I’ve ever felt and I’ve never walked this road before, it’s really hard and I feel like our interaction drove us further apart. I’d love if you text to see how I am or how things are going with Linda. I opened up to you and it feels like you’re punishing me by withholding care which I know won’t be your intention. I wanted to share how I’m feeling about it. I was painfully honest with you last week and it blew up in my face, now I have less from you than I did before.’ And then we spoke on the phone. He told me he felt like he couldn’t win, that the help he’d offered me had been thrown back in his face. I asked him to please let his defensiveness stand to one side and let this conversation be about understanding me. I said, ‘please let your loving child heart see my grieving child heart,’ I reminded him how much we love each other and how much we’ve been through together. I asked him, ‘do you feel you’re able to really see and feel my pain?’ he was silent for longer than imaginable on a phone call and then said he wasn’t sure. I know he isn’t. I’m not angry or resentful about that. I had never experienced this level of pain before and so I know he hasn’t either. Before the past couple of weeks I could only have imagined this kind of grief and before working so deeply with Anna I wouldn’t have felt it this deeply, I wasn’t capable. I really believe you can’t know or empathise with the pain a person is in until you’ve been to the depths of it yourself and he is very detached and still in the early stages of his own therapy. I could tell in his voice he didn’t know how to respond to me. I told him, ‘please don’t feel you need to offer solutions or fix me… there is nothing to fix with grief. It makes perfect sense that I would feel like this. This pain needs to be felt and all I ask of you is that you sit with me in it and love me through it… all I ask of anyone who loves me is that they don’t turn their backs on me through this… it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and I don’t know how to reach out so please be the one to reach out to me… can you do that?’ he said he would try. We spoke for nearly two hours and I cried through a lot of it. We definitely moved forwards but there’s still a big disparity between our understanding of things that’s creating distance.

I feel like this experience of losing Anna has opened a portal to a space in the universe inside myself that I never knew existed. My maternal grandpa died when I was 20 and since then I have lost 7 more very close and special relatives and one friend who had just turned thirty. Four of my relatives were too young when they died… two of them were sudden deaths that no one could have predicted. I’ve also lost beloved pets which is a pure and all encompassing grief. I know grief. I have cried and hurt. And it’s different for everyone. So for me, this grief, losing Anna… nothing compares. I miss my aunt who died in her 50’s of cancer. I cried for my uncle who had a sudden aneurysm – I think of him often and there are hundreds of songs that remind me of him. What I wouldn’t give to sit with my paternal grandmother and talk to her, ask her to share all her amazing housekeeping secrets… thank her for her box of handwritten recipes and her jewellery I inherited. I wish my kids had met these people. Each of them have a permanent special place in my heart… but nothing has hurt like this. Losing Anna has ripped my heart open. She played such a huge role in my life, I’ve lost so much more than just the person I lost. I told my husband that I feel like I’m a walking bubble of emotion right now. Apparently we are made up of 60% water… I feel like the grief has turned that water to tears. Grief infused tears filling me right up, sloshing around when I walk or roll over in bed, ebbing and flowing like a tide inside my body when I catch myself laughing then feel the tears well up. I’m carrying it around with me everywhere. I wake up with it. I go to sleep with it. It’s everywhere. Before losing Anna I didn’t know this existed.

My session today was intense… again. I told her I’d found our last session really difficult, it had brought up a lot of stuff and I was completely wiped out when we’d ended the call. I told her I slept straight after the session and the few days after had felt full of heavy emotions. I told her I’d been sleeping a lot recently. I said, ‘yesterday was a really griefy day. I think the grief I’m feeling about Anna is mixed in with grief from my childhood…’ I told her that I drove past my childhood house yesterday, the one where I was most unhappy… which stirred up a lot of feelings. I sat in the car crying for an hour. Linda asked me if I knew what drew me to the place I was most unhappy and what the crying was about. I can’t for the life of me remember what I said to her. I jumped around from one subject to the other, as another anecdote popped into my mind I would share it then another and another, finding loose connections between each one. I talked about very early memories of being responsible for my family, responsible for my mothers emotional wellbeing. I talked about my parents splitting up and people being shocked and upset. My neighbour coming to the door and crying when I answered saying she just couldn’t believe it, that my parents were great together and it was breaking her heart that he’d left. I had become a walking robot by then. I didn’t feel. No one knew what it was really like in our house.

I talked about feeling like my experience of the family was so different to what people on the outside saw… I said, ‘we were held up as this perfect family, no one knew what it was like.’ Linda later revisited that statement and asked me who described us as the perfect family. I said, ‘probably my mum… she’d describe herself as a natural mother, she was loved by everyone, she had this persona… so there was this version of life that we were told to believe, like brainwashed and then I’d be left thinking, ‘why do I feel so awful then?’ you know? It must be me… I’m the problem… it’s me who is the problem.’ After exploring this a bit more Linda asked me if I could remember any time in my childhood when I knew that it wasn’t me… she said, ‘kids are really intuitive, especially young kids, you knew deep inside that there was nothing wrong with you, that it was your mum who was wrong…’ she prefaced that by saying ‘hit this one out the ballpark if it doesn’t sit right with you’ and afterwards I said, ‘I wish that were true, I wish I could say that I knew it wasn’t me but that doesn’t feel like how it was just now… were talking day in day out insidious, covert, subtle brainwashing… being made to believe her truth over mine.’ I told her about the time when I was 14 and I spoke to my guidance teacher and he’d said to me that the way my mum was treating me wasn’t right. I started thinking more deeply about my experiences and questioning what I was being told. I told her about them finally taking me to a psychologist and how she never took me back. That even with everything I’d told them, they still didn’t protect me from her.

Linda talked about the incongruence of feeling something to be true and being told it’s something else. I said I was feeling weird talking about it all and then skipped on to talking about something else. She went back to check in and asked me what I was feeling in my body, where in my body. I said I was shaking all over right inside my bones, down my arms and legs, in my chest and tummy… like I did the day I flipped my car over and was taken in an ambulance on a stretcher. The shaking. Like shock vibrating under the surface of my skin. She said, ‘your body knows it wasn’t right… even as a small child, you didn’t have the words but you knew.’ I’m reflecting on this and I can see it’s moments like this where I need something deeper than this, at the very least I need to process this in the room with someone but more than that I need someone who can help me take these somatic experiences further. My body is trying to work something through by shaking like that.

I told Linda I’d been thinking about my analogy of the house on fire. I said I’d been talking to my friend yesterday about it all and that she’d sent me a song with the lyrics, ‘But if childhood defines you, Can it ever be behind you?’ (I’ll include the whole song at the end because it’s totally spot on and amazing that she knew it would resonate). I then told Linda about ten individual anecdotes from various years of my childhood – the time when i was 4 years old and intentionally left behind, a time I was blamed for something very serious that clearly wasn’t me, the times my mum told me she never wanted me.

I jumped to another story, ‘I remember when this case was televised on the news about a couple who had murdered their toddler and my friend saying how disgusted she was to watch the footage of the couple walking to court holding hands… the idea that these people were capable of any kind of intimacy and affection when they had committed such a heartless crime… they’d tortured that poor baby. And I remember feeling the same and then realising that’s what I had felt through my childhood, this disgusting, shameful, confused feeling when I would watch my mum being overtly sexual with my dad or gentle and affectionate with my brother while she also made it glaringly obvious she couldn’t stand being near me. Such a clear message that it was me who was unlovable. She would stand up and walk away if I sat next to her. She would leave the room if I walked in. She would physically push me away when I went to hug her and I remember her telling me when I was a young teen that I wanted to much, I was too much, she’d tell me I’d never meet anyone who’d want as many hugs as I did…’ Linda asked me if that happened a lot, being told I was too much. I said, ‘yeah… all the time, but I know that was her internal experience of herself, being too much… but yeah, I received that message loud and clear.’

Another memory I shared was when I was 12 years old and my beautiful cat, my best friend who I told all my secrets, became very ill. I nursed him for months and then he became too ill. My mum couldn’t handle it so she drove me to the vet and I carried him in and held him as they shaved and injected him. I sat with him and stroked and loved him as he died. Then afterwards I helped my mum process her pain and guilt and grief. My arm round her shoulders as she sobbed. I kept my crying to the middle of the night silently under the covers. Linda stayed with that for a while talking about how heartbreaking it was but I kept repeating, ‘it’s not that bad, it was so long ago…’ Another memory I shared was the time I went to my doctor at 14 to talk about the self-harm and he said, ‘if you’re trying to kill yourself you’re cutting the wrong way.’ He told me I was selfish and that my mother was going through a painful divorce and I was adding to her problems. She shuffled in her seat and exhaled loudly at that one. Told me it was shocking. I shrugged and said it was the 90’s and maybe he had no experience of it back then. She apologised on his behalf and said, ‘that is the exact opposite way to respond to someone talking about their self-harm!’

I skipped again, to present day. I told Linda I really struggled to believe what everyone’s telling me that my kids are secure and well adjusted. I said, ‘I can see they’ve been affected by the lockdown and by my struggles, I can see they know something is up with me but kids don’t just walk up to their mum and say, ‘hey you seem really emotionally distant and I don’t feel connected to you,’ instead it crops up in weird behaviour changes, unsettled nights, volatile emotions, squabbling… I can see they are impacted and I guess it just feels really confusing to me because how do I know if this is what’s gonna fuck them up… how do I know exactly what fucked me up? If they are well adjusted and resilient enough to deal with me being unhinged for a few months then what the fuck happened to me to make me have so many deep routed issues… how bad was it? How poorly attuned was she? It’s like my whole childhood was a lie… or I’m finally listening to what I always knew.’

There’s a lot I can’t remember about the session. We talked about the intergenerational trauma running through my family. Generations of alcohol abuse, infidelities, emotional instability, toxic dynamics, the perfect storm that resulted in me. Linda didn’t say much. I felt her presence, she was responding and she was actively listening but I guess she doesn’t know me well enough yet to go too deeply into things. I told her I was embarrassed and this was like verbal diarrhea like in the first few sessions we worked together and she laughed and said, ‘that is not my experience of you at all Lucy, not at all.’ That felt nice. I want to hear more from her actually… I need to slow down.

At one point Linda said, ‘I’m really struck by the fact that it’s all right there on the surface for you, all of these very painful stories are right there and they are just as powerful and energised as they were when they happened.’ She had a caring expression on her face and I told her that’s exactly how it feels and I want it to not be like that anymore. I told her it feels like I’m just scratching the surface and all these things will need to be talked about again but in more detail and she agreed enthusiastically.

We had a couple of minutes to go and there was a bit of silence and she looked away for a bit mid sentence then told me she was appalled by some of the things I told her that had happened to me. She said, ‘I know how any child would be able to make sense of any of that.’ I said I hadn’t made sense of it and that’s why its still alive inside me. She said she understood that and there was space here for me to try and make sense of it all now.

I came off the call feeling really dissociated again and laid my head down for twenty minutes then sat up and emailed Linda the following message.

Hi, I just wanted to get this written down in real time. I need to remember to go slowly Linda. There’s this massive kickback I get when I over share and I can’t believe I’ve not learned that about myself yet. I jump around from one traumatic memory to the next sharing multiple events that had a deep impact then I invalidate my experience by telling myself it wasn’t that bad. While I verbally disclose only the tip of all those icebergs, under the surface I feel the weight of what’s beneath every single one of them. Massive amounts of shame and pain filling me up. It’s too much for me to hold by myself after the session which I think is why I then feel the need to sleep – the big feelings plus the thoughts in my head telling me I shouldn’t have shared so much with you is overwhelming. I know it’s my job to be responsible for myself but please can you help me remember in the session to stick with one big thing at a time. I get carried away and I think the pain of it all makes me move quickly. Please could you encourage me to look deeply at one subject and not expose multiple things all at once. It leaves me feeling very vulnerable. Also it makes me reluctant to revisit any of the things I’ve disclosed because I don’t want you to think I’m repetitive. I just want to say this now because there’s a chance I’ll forget that this came up for me by the time I next speak to you. Basically I need to remember to go slow. Speak to you about it on Wed. Thanks, Lucy.

The song…

The Valley by Ethan Gruska
I’m driving through the valley
My whole childhood was here
Early memories of my family
Mom and Dad were still together
For the first couple years
I remember it just barely
I never really cared
And I still don’t, to tell the truth
But if childhood defines you
Can it ever be behind you?
Hmm
At the house at the end of the alley
My first love, she lived in there
It’s where I kept disappearing
She was all I cared about
For two and a half years
Now I remember her so vaguely
I know I broke her heart
But she broke mine equally too
If it’s heartbreak that defines me
Can it ever be behind me?
Hmm hmm hmm hmmmm
Please…
And the years go by like a close race
Headed for the finish line
Looking back in the rearview mirror
Holding on for dear life
Like how I’m layin’ in bed
Lookin’ into the eyes of my future wife
Thinking it’s family that defines me
I can’t help if they remind me
Of the fear that can be blinding
That history repeats itself in me
Oh, hmm

House in Flames

Firstly I thanked Linda for the previous session. I specifically thanked her for being open to my feedback and allowing space for it all to be discussed. She said it was fine and good that we talk about it all and she said it’s important as we settle into working together that we continue to talk like that. I said I was really pleased about that and explained that when I worked with Paul I very quickly started to feel the need to talk about the relationship but didn’t feel like that was allowed. He would often say I was pushing him beyond his capabilities or his experience and it meant that I felt ashamed like there was something wrong with me for feeling the need to talk about it. Linda said that it’s often not important how long a person has been a therapist for or what experience that have, the important thing is for the therapist to remember that every client is completely different and they need to adapt to that person sitting in front of them. I said, ‘yeah I’m really glad you’re saying that. In sessions I would bring something to Paul and he would start talking about techniques and it really annoyed me, it felt patronising like as if I could just magically cure like 25 years of issues by doing one or two easy things. I did feel like Paul cared a lot about me but he was rigid in his beliefs, the CBT got in the way to be honest and I told him that. I really needed to talk about stuff from my past and he would tolerate it a little but then he would say that he didn’t believe analysis of the past was helpful, he’d say people spend thousands of pounds analysing their childhood over years and years and it’s important to be present and to live in the moment. Whereas Anna was very much like, you need to talk about this, you’ve kept it inside all your life which was helpful because I had kind of pushed it all down thinking I was being self obsessed or something… and this relates to us because in the first block of session we had when you said you were used to working short term with clients and that you tend to work in short blocks of 6 to 8 sessions it reminded me of Paul… and I was worried that you would agree with him, that I shouldn’t dwell on the past.’ Linda said, ‘you’ll know this already but it’s been widely written about that the relationship is very important in therapy.’ I said, ‘my experience of therapy is that it is the single most important thing about the whole therapy process… the relationship.’ Linda smiled and nodded and continued, ‘and within that relationship, looking at exactly what the client specifically needs is really important… for you, your childhood is still very much alive inside you and so that’s where the focus should be.’ I said, ‘I think that’s what the whole of the last session was really about… checking that you were okay with that… you know that you’re okay with me talking about my childhood and you’re prepared to invest in the relationship.’ She agreed.

We talked a little about the way that Paul broke boundaries with me and how even though they were minor boundaries (such as letting sessions run on sometimes more than 40 minutes past what I’d paid and arranged for), it triggered in me this sense of uncertainty and hypervigilance, that I was never able to fully relax and trust and feel safe in the relationship. It reminded me on a physical, unspoken level, of what life was like with my parents… this consistent inconsistency that I’d told Linda of before and she brought up again that it had stuck in her mind.

I then said I wasn’t sure what I wanted to talk about today and that the familiar anxiety about finding the perfect thing to talk about was there as always. I said, ‘I’m feeling a bit better today, you know all the things in my life don’t feel as out of control as they felt on Saturday.’ Linda said, ‘that’s good to hear, you said that you felt all the areas of your life were crumbling, is that not what it feels like today?’ I said, ‘I think it’s just that I haven’t been spending time looking at them recently so they’re not in the forefront of my mind… so I’m still struggling to feel close to Grace, the house is a tip, Adam’s annoying me so much I want to leave him sometimes and I’m really anxious about work and just want to quit. I guess… I just feel a really strong desire to walk away from it all, it’s not that it’s not all still there it just got too much for me and so I sort of left it all.’ Linda said, ‘is that a familiar pattern for you?’ I nodded.

I said my dad had visited yesterday and the visit was awkward. Linda asked if it was awkward physically or emotionally and I said, ‘I don’t know it’s just awkward and I’m on edge in case someone says something that’s going to torment the kids later about the virus or deaths or whatever and my dad can’t engage emotionally and if you ever talk about anything emotionally difficult, he is emotionally distant. Always has been. Memories from childhood, he was just like vacant. He could be in the room with me and I wouldn’t even remember. You’d have a full conversation with him and at the end you’d realise he wasn’t listening or he’d say he wasn’t listening… or he’d go off and read in the bedroom and ignore us all day.’

I continued, ‘I hate that I can be like that, I don’t want to be like that. I really hate it when I notice that I behave anything like either of them… and I take myself off to type or think or rest and sometimes I drift off and don’t listen… I do try to let the kids know what’s happening and not just wander off. I’ll tell them I’m working or whatever and reconnect with them later but it’s not enough.’ Linda said, ‘I wonder if those reconnecting moments are actually the most important bit though, they’re the sense making parts of the day… that’s what you lacked growing up.’ I said that everyone keeps telling me that but it doesn’t really feel like it makes up for it.

I said, ‘My parents always leaned on me emotionally. It made me feel…’ I pulled a face and then continued, ‘but they’ve never been able to be there for me you know so there’s this imbalance…’ Linda interrupted and said, ‘can we just go back to that, what came up for you then?’ I said, ‘um… it just feels… it’s just yucky and gross and… uhhh yuck! Like I don’t want to be that for them I just want them to be strong and stable and… my parents! You know’?’ Linda nodded and said, ‘yeah I thought that was it I just wanted to make sure.’ Linda said she could tell it makes me feel very uncomfortable just to even talk about it.

I said, ‘With any of this, family life… whatever… I get very overwhelmed then I just leave.’ Linda said, ‘you leave physically?’ I said, ‘yeah or mentally/emotionally I just leave…’ Linda asked if that happens a lot and I said yes depending on what’s going on in my life. She asked if it’s always happened and I told her I don’t remember ever not having this very vivid inner world and an ability to stop being out here and to escape inside. Linda said, ‘Okay, this feels important, are you alright if we stay with this for a bit? Talk about it and explore how it might play out here between us? Did you ever talk about it in great depth with Anna?’ I was nodding.

I said, ‘It happened throughout therapy with Anna and then there was this one session about a year ago where I said something about feeling dissociative and Anna jumped on that and we talked in great detail about it in that session and she was saying that it happens a lot in the therapy room and I said to her, ‘why haven’t you brought it up before?’ and she said she was waiting for me to bring it up… I was like ‘Anna! Fuck sake, we could have been working on it all this time!’ and she said, ‘but I could have brought it up a year ago and unintentionally triggered a huge shame response in you and you’d have been out that door, it needed to come from you,’ you know we talked about the need to go slowly at the pace set by the client.’ Linda was nodding and smiling and asked how it may come up for me in session with her. I said, ‘over time, as you get to know me, it will become fairly obvious when it happens. I’ll be unable to continue whatever I was talking about, I say uhhh a lot, I say that I feel spacey or weird or sick or foggy or I say ‘I don’t know’ a lot.’ Linda said, ‘ah yeah I’ve heard you say you feel spacey before, okay and are there any particular times you’re aware it comes up?’ I said, ‘It happens a lot when I talk about my mum…’ she said, ‘right hmmm,’ with a sombre tone and I continued, ‘if I feel shame or any strong emotions, the fog rolls in… sometimes I’m aware of it and other times I don’t have the awareness.’

Linda asked, ‘What would be helpful for us to do when it happens? Would it be helpful for me to bring it up, to ask what’s going on for you? Coz that might not be what’s happening, it could be a number of other things… something in the house has distracted you or you’re thinking about what you’re going to say… how would it feel if I was to ask you?’ I immediately said, ‘I’d like that.’ I was thinking about how validating that feels, like truly being seen… when they gently name what they see. I said, ‘I don’t really know what the right thing to do is when I get into that space. I think it’s part of the slowing down thing… it happens maybe when my system feels the need to slow down… so maybe looking at what we were talking about just prior or when it happened would help.’ I told her about the session when I told Anna how frustrating it is because it’s like I can see the whole road ahead of me and then this thick fog goes down. Anna asked me if it was a protective fog and I said it felt like that so she asked what we do in the fog… basically we sat it out together, in safety, and that felt so nice… to experience it with someone, not by myself.’ Linda was listening and nodding… I feel like I write that a lot, she does contribute and talk but there has been a lot of her listening while I talk lately. I guess she’s getting to know me.

Linda asked, ‘Does it impact your daily life a lot?’ and I laughed and said, ‘yup! It keeps me separate from people and means that I miss things… Adam said I’ve always been a daydreamer, he knows I have a vivid imagination and I live in my head a lot… we talked about it once in a kind of light way and he said I’ve just always been like that and he loves me anyway kind of thing.’ She said, ‘oh right, wow, has it always been like that… do you remember periods in your life where it wasn’t a problem?’ I said, ‘When I feel happy or settled in the present moment then it’s not there and that can last days, weeks. When I’m stressed and overwhelmed or upset it’s there on and off all the time.’

Somehow we got onto the subject of me stressing about fucking the kids up… again. At one point I said that Anna always used to remind me that I am not your mum and I joked about how annoying that was to hear. Linda said, ‘this might not be helpful right now and tell me if it’s not but I do want it to be said that none of us grow up unscathed, we can’t protect children from pain, we all have our own issues, that’s the beauty of being human… the difference is that your experiences hurt you very deeply and are still impacting you today.’ I nodded and told he that it just doesn’t seem good enough. I told her I overthink and analyse everything. I told her that I asked dad once if they ever sat in bed at the end of the day and went over things, talked about how they could have done things differently that day, or talked about me and Daniel and how we were coping or not coping, he said never. I asked him, ‘surely there were times when mum said she wished she’d done it differently’? He said no… there wasn’t a single day where they thought about the impact on us I mean what the actual fuck!? I always go over and over things. There isn’t a night goes by where Adam and I don’t talk about the impact of our parenting. We talk about it every single day, multiple times a day in fact… almost every interaction. What we have done and how we could adapt, repair, change things for next time. I said to Linda, ‘I mean I want to go back in time and fucking shake them! Grab them by the shoulders and scream at them ‘wake the fuck up!’ – they were the adults, they could have done something but day in day out it was just….. (long silence)… ummm well…. (long silence… I might have said stuff here but I can’t remember, I became very dissociative. I was staring out the window and then noticed out the corner of my eye Linda moving slightly further forward towards the screen, like she was watching me closely (embarrassing) I grabbed my new stuffed dog, River and stroked him off camera)… uh anyway it doesn’t matter now…’ Linda said, ‘what happened for you there, Lucy, you were talking and then you suddenly stopped talking?’ I said, ‘uhhh’ a lot. Then covered my face and said, ‘I don’t even know what we were talking about,’ and then Linda repeated what I had said (which is the only reason I know what I said and was able to write it above) and said, ‘you were getting angry, I could feel your anger’. I said ,’and here comes the shame, I just want to close the laptop now.’ Linda asked, ‘what’s the shame about Lucy?’ I said, ‘…uh… coz we’re just talking! It’s just words.’ She gently said, ‘yes but they are words that carry a lot of weight, we’re talking about something very painful and you were feeling anger about it.’ I said, ‘Maybe anger wasn’t a safe emotion for me to feel either then.’

I then had this very vivid image in my mind and said, ‘it’s like I’m standing here with a huge hose desperately dowsing water on my current house in front of me in case it catches fire when there isn’t even any fire there at all, while there is this other house ablaze behind me. I’m focusing on my kids and on all these possible ways I might mess them up but it’s a distraction taking me away from closely looking at what actually is hurting which is everything that’s behind me… the childhood behind me, the one that’s beyond saving, it’s burned to cinders.’ I was talking quite quickly again and I continued, ‘Overthinking everything, like everything. I over think EVERYTHING – like Grace has been asking about sex and I’m stressing out about whether I’m explaining it the right way. We were watching Cheaper by the Dozen on TV and the dad had a vasectomy and she asked Adam what was happening so he said he was having an operation so he couldn’t have any more babies and Grace said she thought it was women that had babies and Adam explained that sperm is needed as well and that led to more questions and I’m just terrified that something we say will scar her for life I mean I don’t even remember when I learned about sex I was that young and it filled my head, she filled my head with this stuff and…’ I involuntarily took three or four huge breaths in.  

In the gap Linda said, ‘I was really struck by the image of the burning house you know. This is really big important pressing work that’s demanding we take notice, that’s a striking image and you said it’s on fire right behind you, right behind your head… that’s powerful. It’s still hurting you, Lucy.’ I said, ‘yes it is.’ And sort of nodded with my head down for a while.

I said, ‘I just think all these things are like smoke and mirrors… you know focusing heavily on my kids and present day anxieties that distract me from what brought me to therapy in the first place… like all these road blocks you know, like the transference I’ve experienced with all my therapists… you know, why focus on dealing with all my painful childhood stuff when my mind’s conjuring up all these fucking weird fantasies about my three therapists!’ Linda smiled and said, ‘it’s interesting you would say roadblocks because they can be moved… but they make us stop and pause and take care of something in that moment, don’t they? And they’re there for a reason, so maybe whatever the roadblock is, daily life stuff, transference… maybe it’s encouraging us to look at something important.’ I liked that she used my analogy to help me understand it in a deeper way. I love that she is allowing me to explore and process through analogies like Anna would. It’s what I need to do to figure out what my internal experience is.

I said, ‘so we’ve got 7 minutes to go and I had something on my mind, I just wanted to say that I was processing our last session a lot this week and you said that me feeling this grief is really respectful of Anna and my relationship and I was thinking about how grief really feels like love. I thought about all these great quotes and poems I’ve read about grief being love turned inside out and I thought… it’s easy to own this grief that I feel for Anna because I love her so much it feels like the only thing I can do is feel this grief, almost to honour her and the love we developed between us through the work we were doing. I thought that maybe that’s why I struggle to grieve my childhood, because I don’t love myself or the child I was… there’s just hate and shame and anger and resentment and loathing about that girl, there’s no love there…I mean I had slowly started to feel the beginnings of a connection but really, I don’t love my child self. It’s easy to grieve for Anna because I love her and miss what I’ve lost. It’s hard to grieve a childhood when you don’t even know what it feels like to have the thing you missed out on. I guess that’s why it hurts so much when the therapist is caring or loving because then it gives you a taste of what you longed for and that’s the loss… you’re grieving the love you didn’t have… anyway, that’s something for another time.’ Linda said, ‘wow… yes, that is a very big something for another time. Definitely.’

And we sort of ended there. We talked a little about the sunny weather and we confirmed Saturdays session time and said goodbye.

As I closed my laptop I sort of ‘realised’ I was in my room in my house and I suddenly felt very spacey and uneasy. I had to lie down and in my head I was thinking, ‘wow I’m not feeling okay, I feel so weird…’ I was really dissociative and felt very unreal. I slept for about an hour and woke up feeling a little more grounded but still emotionally fried. 12 hours later and I’m still feeling the affects! I felt like Linda was a very present, patient and caring listener today. I felt that she was committed to finding out about me and learning who I am and what I need. Right now, I feel hopeful about her ability to work with what I am currently bringing her. And I am getting more used to sitting with the discomfort of not knowing what is round the corner in terms of my therapy journey. This is where I am right now and so this is what I need to deal with… and I keep reminding myself that Anna had faith in me that I could continue this therapeutic work without her, so that is what I will do.

River

This grief is pure love.

‘In order to stay healthy, our nervous systems and psyches need to face challenges and to succeed in meeting those challenges. When this need is not met, or when we are challenged and cannot triumph, we end up lacking vitality and are unable to fully engage in life.’

Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

We are approaching the end of the second week since Anna phoned me to let me know that she was closing her practice. I keep going over phrases that we said to each other during that call and despite going over her words countless times in my head, I can’t hear her voice anymore, I wish I had recorded her at least once. I do remember her words though… ‘if you remember nothing else from this conversation I want you to remember this, I am not rejecting you…’ ‘…you were never too much for me…’ ‘…I am so proud of you… you gave your all, every session, week in week out…’ ‘…working with you changed me…’ ‘…I care deeply about you…’ ‘…I will never forget you.’ I can hear me quietly voicing my realisation, ‘so this is the last time I’ll ever speak to you and I’m never going to see you again?’ Crying silently as she replied yes, so she wouldn’t feel any worse than she already did. A 14 minute phone call to mark the end of two and a half years of deep attachment therapy. She told me, ‘don’t let this be the end, take this to Linda. Work on this ending with her.’

On Tuesday the 19th of May my therapy mum died. That’s not an analogy… it’s a fact. She’s just Anna now. She’s not Anna my therapist. She doesn’t see me twice a week anymore. She doesn’t regularly read my texts, talk to me on the phone, sit writing notes about me between sessions. She will have closed her folder within which she held her case study of our work for her dissertation, she will no longer read up on ways to help support me, book herself onto courses that will deepen her knowledge. She doesn’t make her way to her office every Tuesday and Saturday and in one of the hours sit with me, look at me, study and analyse and feel with me. She will never-again leave that building holding me in mind. None of that happens anymore. My therapy mum is now just Anna. It’s only now that our work has finished that I can see so clearly how much she cared about me. That she really did value that time we spent together. I feel our connection and love so powerfully now. It feels like I’ve been torn from the soft womb of her mothering, cord severed, ripped from her arms violently, prematurely. Parts of me were brought to being in that room in front of her. Parts of me were breathed to life in that room in front of her, because of her. Because she saw me.

I didn’t just lose someone I loved. It’s not just the relationship I’ve lost. It’s the hope of healing some of these very deep wounds in the next few months or years with her. It’s the sentences started that I intended on finishing with her. All those times I said, ‘I can’t go on with this today…’ through words or dissociation and so she would hold it for me, indefinitely, until I was ready. I want to phone her up and scream into her voicemail, ‘I’m ready now! I’M READY NOW! I want to cry with you now. The dam has burst and I couldn’t stop myself even if I wanted to. I want to ask you to hold me and rock me while I howl. I want to lie with my head in your lap and have you stroke my hair like my mother never could, I know now that you’d do that for me. I want to sit cross legged on the floor holding hands with you, eyes closed breathing together. I want to tell you all the things that happened to me and have you hold me in the pain of it all. I want to tell you that I love you and hear you say it back to me. I want to tell you that the wall is no longer there Anna, there is no wall. And I’m sorry that I said I had mixed feelings about coming back to you after the first six sessions with Linda. I was always going to come back to you. I wish I’d never said that. I was hurting and I was frightened. You told me that you will be inside me forever and I am inside you. I feel it now… I fucking feel it now as I grieve losing it. I want to be given the gift of leaving when I’m ready to go.’

She invested so much in me. I can see now that she connected very deeply to my journey and I trusted her so much with it. I knew I could take anything to Anna and she would help me work through it. My personal development has been massively interrupted. I was on a train moving steadily forwards and suddenly someone switched the track without consent and I’m veering off on a route I hadn’t planned. She didn’t plan it either. I don’t even know what track her life’s hurtling down now but it’s definitely not the one she wanted. Back in March during her first bout of illness Anna said to me, ‘I’m sorry that me being ill has impacted your therapy journey,’ and I didn’t even think anything of it because I just figured we’d pick things up again when it all went back to normal.

So it’s been two weeks. I can honestly say that the pain I felt immediately after she said goodbye felt like it would kill me. I cried so much I thought I was going to be sick… and as I write those words just now I am transported back to Lucy of 1998, sitting on my bed in my room writing a poem with the first line, ‘have you ever cried so much you feel like you might throw up?’ It’s such a thick and powerful grief and I know it well. It scarred my heart as a child and I’m tracing those scars now. It threatened to kill me at the age of 14 and it threatened to kill me again 22 years on. Back then I had no one to share the pain with. I cried by myself, I cut into my skin, I took pills and drank. All in secret. Eventually I grew an impenetrable shield that no one could get in or out of… numb for decades until now. I am not numb anymore. As Linda said, ‘it is an act of respect to fully feel the grief.’ Last week I didn’t think I was going to make it out of that pit and if I’m honest I may not be out of it yet. Driving to her office hours after the call with this huge heartache pouring out of me. I genuinely thought I was probably going to kill myself by the end of the week. It was fucking dark as hell.

When I was 14 years old I did everything I could to not feel the pain and when it did creep out of me, despite being completely alone, I felt deep deep shame. Now, there is no shame. I walked across a field this afternoon where the grass has grown to my waist the past three months and as I walked I cried openly, with one hand on my chest and the other on my belly. This grief is pure love. It is all of the love I felt for her and all of the love I long to feel from her firing around inside my body and spilling over. It feels like the past two and half years she has been preparing me for this moment. Deconstructing the shame that silenced me, cracking me wide open, loving me to a place where I could finally honour the grief. Giving me something to grieve in real time that allows me to send a lifeline back in time to that 14 year old girl that I buried inside me. I’m feeling it with her, she’s no longer alone.

A very patient and wise friend who has witnessed and given time and space to my raw and unfiltered expressions of this grief each day for the past 14 days said to me today, ‘I fully believe the conditions that get presented to you, you’re going to use them to heal…’ and she brought this quote to me… “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This feels like real and validating hope. It is the perfect way to express that there will be no silver lining because the best option will always have been that Anna could stay with me and finish our work together… but in the absence of the best option and in fact regardless of what option I’m faced with, I will find a way to heal.

This week I bought a beautiful little stuffed dog that looks like a fox. I have tucked Luna and her little family away, lovingly, for the time being. It is just too painful to see them right now. I named my little fox-pup, River. He is a symbol of my unending desire to move towards my goal. Rivers keep going. They are strong enough to wear away the land and move rocks and boulders yet gentle enough to cleanse and caress and ground us. The river can smooth a jagged stone to a shiny pebble in time and score great trenches that change the landscape forever. The river can be a calm, quiet reflector of light and it can be a deep and vast body of dark unknown wonders… whatever the river is, it moves. And so here I am, faced with these conditions that continue to bring me to my knees at points each day… but whether it be for the love of Anna or more importantly the love of myself, I’m gonna use this to help me heal.