I’m getting there!
I’ve been thinking about my first session with Mark and how quickly I felt a strong connection with him. I’m going to attempt to put into words something I was talking to my friend about the other day… this notion of connection and attunement… what does it mean and what do we need for it to happen?
My first thoughts are that we need a level of trust. I spent my whole life trusting no one, least of all myself. I couldn’t trust my own judgement, I was either numb and dissociative or hyperaroused and hypervigilant. I couldn’t trust any in built intuition or gut feelings I might have about people or situations as my body was in a constant state of outdated trauma response. For a good year / year and a half I didn’t trust Anna. I remember speaking to my brother on the phone countless times in that first 18 months lamenting to him that I didn’t think Anna could help me, she didn’t understand me, she wasn’t the right therapist for me. I would sit in the room with her and hold almost all of myself back and then I’d be left in agony as soon as I walked out the door. But it wasn’t deliberate, it seemed to be the only way I could operate. I couldn’t even conjure up an image in my imagination of me letting her in, I didn’t know what that would look or feel like. The one thing that kept me going back was this awareness that I had never in my life trusted a woman… so this was bound to be part of my work.
I guess like the slow and gradual movement of sand through a timer, my trust for her grew. So slowly that I didn’t notice it until I realised that I was now able to ask her to sit next to me, or let her sit with me (looking away upon my request) as I cried silently into my hoodie. Although she and I worked closely with each other building that trust together, the trust was inside me. It was a tiny seed that lay dormant for so long. Then it grew a tentative tiny shoot, then we nurtured it together until it grew roots that strengthened and bright green spindling stems of trust reaching outwards from my once caged off heart. It was in my ability to hold the anxiety and potential disappointment if she answered in a way that might upset me. It was in my ability to express when something didn’t feel right. I learned to trust that she would respond in an honest and authentic way but also I began to trust that I was going to be okay regardless… that I was able to stick up for myself. She fostered all of this, she planted the seed and tended to it gently… but the magic was in my allowing her. The lowering of the guard, the opening of the doors and windows, the curiosity of what it might be to let her in, the willingness to give it a go.
In our final phone call Anna said to me – we have built strong foundations, that doesn’t just disappear now that I’m leaving, it will be in you forever and you can build on those foundations with someone else. Don’t let this be the end of your therapeutic journey. It didn’t feel like that was possible in the months that followed. For a long time it felt like the foundations had been flooded by the swelling tides of grief; anything that had previously been built appeared to disintegrate in the swamp of my overwhelm. But as the deluge gradually pulled back and with support from Linda, I gathered the pieces of myself back up. I can clearly see now that it has not all been washed away. There is a very strong structure still there deep inside me. It’s weathered and worn but it still stands. Linda wasn’t able to build on it with me but she was able to clear the debris and destruction left behind by the terror and abandonment pain. I didn’t have to stand, knee deep in it all, alone.
When I began the search for a new therapist, I felt completely exhausted with the whole notion that I would have to start again. I felt as if whoever I worked with would have to know this whole catalogue of events or at least some sort of backstory to understand ‘why I’m like this’ and affectively be able to help me ‘be better’. I imagined all of the endless time I would need to dedicate to retelling my story, how exhausting and emotionally demoralising it feels to imagine I’d lost all the hard work and I was having to start from scratch… but that’s not been the case. What I’ve noticed is that as long as I hold on to the awareness of my foundations and what I have already worked on, then I’m half way there… and as long as my therapist understands and has experience working with the kind of deep attachment / developmental trauma work I need to do… then that’s the other half of the journey met. With Linda, I immediately felt a level of trust because Anna had left me in her capable hands, I was also pretty lost and in need of any life-raft… the day after my phone call with Anna, there was Linda. That definitely helped me open my heart to her rather than going back to hiding and locking myself away like I had with Anna in the early days. Linda was then able to see me and support the raw emotions that surfaced early on. As I began to stabilize and my life became a bit more recognisable to the life I had before lockdown I was able to feel with a bit more clarity that Linda wasn’t going to be able to do the deeper work with me. I toyed with this notion for over a month. I took it to her, we talked it through, I journaled and shared thoughts and listened to friends. Finally, when Linda admitted that she too believed she was holding a lot, ‘possibly too much’, I took a leap of faith and met with Mark.
I worried that I would have to talk and talk and talk to explain everything to Mark in order for him to understand what I needed… as if to catch him up to speed, bring him to the juncture I was standing in when Anna told me to go on without her… but really, he already knew. He knew because this is what he does for a living. He knew because this is his life’s work. He knew because he is trained in and deeply understands the type of therapy I need and want. So… he knew I needed active listening, compassion, validation, gentle presence, a witness. He knew (because I’d previously discussed my desire to work on developmental trauma and attachment wounds) that my child would need space and a welcome receiver should she (or ‘any one of them’) decide to show up. He knew that losing Anna was huge for me, that it was the biggest loss of my lifetime… in his words. He really understood the gravity of all that I brought with me and he told me there was no rush in telling him everything, that the stories will tell themselves in time.
Having my first session with Mark knowing and believing that he actually wants to do the deep work (in fact knowing he chose to work with me *because* I want to do the in-depth work) has made it a million times easier to open up. There’s something quite magical about him being able to meet me in the depths and knowing that he’s able and willing to do that. I knew, even from reading Linda’s profile online in the early days that she wasn’t the right person but I was so desperate to make that puzzle piece fit that I stayed until even the most frightened and unstable parts of me were ready to let go. Equally I knew, when I read Mark’s profile that he was the right person to move on-wards with.
What I’m learning is that I built the foundations with Anna which enabled me to go straight in to the deep work with Mark. I’ve been thinking about my early obsessive desire to purge all of my life story to Paul and Anna. I wonder if the focus on the narrative and the telling of the stories with Paul and Anna actually kept me in my head. I didn’t have any access to my feelings for so much of the work I did with them and I was under the illusion that I’d be able to reach the feelings if only I told my story over and over again. But I’m learning that the feelings will only come when I’m ready to process them and when the circumstances and environment are right. I’m now able to go in to the sessions and bring the real grief I’m working through in real time. Just 16 minutes in to the first session with Mark and I’m crying! That’s astounding to me and I never thought it possible! Hours and hours I sat with Anna, desperately wanting to cry. Mark says he trusts the biology and ancient evolution of our emotions. That they know what to do… and I have to say I believe he’s right. We just seem to do everything in our power to get in the way of them (for good reason).
On the subject of emotions and particularly this idea of overwhelming negative emotions. When I worked with Paul I had this idea that if I worked hard enough, he’d find a way to fix me and I’d no longer feel so broken. That I’d know when I’m finished because I won’t have any problems anymore. I’d be perfect… and happy… this illusive, temporary state of being that I so desperately wanted to inhabit all day every day.
What I’ve realised more recently is that I’m not ever going to be ‘finished’ or have no problems and absolutely never will I be ‘perfect’ – what even is that? What is more likely to happen is that my capacity to hold all of the many varied emotions is going to expand… it has already grown exponentially. Now I’m able to feel feelings I could never feel before and survive them and keep on keeping on. Holding all of that inside me, bearing witness to it, letting it move through me… that is the key. So interestingly this brings me to something that Linda always used to say… and every therapist has their own way of saying this… the key, really, is to trust the process. To trust ones own ability to heal. To trust that with the will and desire, I will get there. As Mark said, I already am getting there.