Therapy holiday thoughts

The past few weeks have been a total rollercoaster. I have had moments of feeling kind of okay and moments of feeling complete despair. I’m coming to the end of my two week therapy holiday and I feel like it’s been way longer than that. I have so much I want to take to Mark. SO MUCH. How do you choose? How do I bring exactly what I need to bring while also leaving space for the therapists care and connection to get through to you? This feeling always leads to chronic anxiety that I’m gonna waste the session and not talk about anything important and not feel connected and feel like everything has gone to shit.

Last night I was triggered by a dream I had of Mark the previous night. I’d unconsciously put it to one side all day in some sort of dissociative walled off way and by the evening when I had time to feel it, it took over me. Thankfully my friend was on the end of the phone and I was able to share my distress with her. To be honest I felt like I was a completely different person. A split off fragment of myself or something. A very troubled teen who did not feel remotely related to the 37 year old woman and mother that I am. At one point I was so troubled by my thoughts that I started to hyperventilate and nearly had a panic attack.

Basically, every single night since the last session, I’ve had these amazingly connecting, soothing, lovely dreams of Mark. I’ve dreamt of awesome sessions and lovely woodland walks. They’ve all had this boundaried sense of safety and connection. In one of the dreams I went to his house for a work related meeting that had been prearranged and involved a number of agencies I work with. I felt very in my adult, I met Mark’s partner and we prepared a meal together and I felt respected and valued and like they enjoyed engaging with me. It was seriously such an awesome gift from my subconscious to be able to feel this connection with Mark through the therapy break. Then Wednesday night happened and all that crumbled.

In the dream I was going to a session with Mark, an actual face to face session, in a therapy room. I felt really good about it. It was in quite a dark room at the end of a corridor. Previously we had worked for many sessions preparing for this session and I knew it was going to be really healing. In my dream we were going to do this therapeutic tool called ‘skin to skin attachment work’ which consisted of lying in bed with the therapist, both with tops off… (yes I know this sounds really weird in waking life but in my dream it made sense and was a thing people did to heal developmental trauma) with the therapist holding the client in a comforting, gentle, parental way, like you would hold a toddler in the crook of your arm. In the dream I felt safe and fully trusting of this process. I was a teenager in the dream and I was aware I had the body I had as a teen. I could feel his skin on my skin and in the dream I regressed to a young child state that both me and Mark were aware of. I felt soothed by his calming presence. It felt so healing and nurturing and lovely. But very slowly and gradually everything changed. I won’t go into details because despite it being a dream I am pretty traumatised by it but basically he had tricked me into believing this was a therapeutic tool. He violated me, slowly. It felt horrific. I felt so disgusted with myself. I felt like such an idiot for believing him. I was aware that I felt very young and powerless and almost hopeful that if I went along with this maybe he wouldn’t reject me. Afterwards he told me that would be our last session. I paid him (???) and left in tears. As I walked down the corridor, completely destroyed, I passed three open doors… one with Linda at it, one with Anna and one with Paul. I cried out, ‘now I’m going to have to find another therapist’ and then I woke up crying.

Through the day, like I said, I wasn’t really that aware of the dream. But last night it all came pouring out of me… this part of me was absolutely inconsolable at points. In fact I was the closest I’ve been to cutting myself for a long time. If it wasn’t for my friend who was messaging me, I would have cut. This part of me felt like everything was destroyed, there was no hope, she longed for Anna and was stuck in a cycle of disbelief that she’s really never coming back, she felt like a reject who could never be helped and she was left with no trust for any therapist. This part (let’s call her 14) was certain ‘I’ am just like my mother (in fact this is the thought that triggered the almost panic attack). My friend reminded 14 that I am a caring and attentive mother. She tried to encourage self compassion by sending me photos and voicenotes I have previously sent her when in my adult space but 14 could not associate with that role at all. She felt like ‘I’ was a fake. She felt that everything ‘I’ talk about is bullshit. That ‘I’ talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

To be honest (because isn’t that what this space is for?) I binged most of the morning… and on reflection I’m thinking maybe this is what 14 was freaking out about last night. She kept saying that ‘I’ am a farce, I buy the books but I don’t fully read them all, I start watching meditation videos and don’t complete them, I share stuff on Instagram and don’t follow the advice myself… as 14 said ‘I’m just like my mum!’… Basically, I’m not looking after my system. I am on some levels. I did my physio exercises for my pain and took my meds this morning. I tried to read one of the Pema Chodron books I recently bought. But I’m still living this very mixed up life where I know one thing and do another… but maybe that’s healing. It’s messy… not linear. 14 feels very let down by everyone, including ‘me’. And I’m not sure where to go with that. I’ve been signed off work this month and I recently got signed off for November too. The fact is, I’m really really struggling. Like I’ve said a million times, 2020 has been the hardest year of my adult life. It feels like I’m drowning.

I watched quite a lot of the Embodiment conference when the videos were live and two in particular really grabbed my attention. So much so that I watched them both in full twice. One was a session with Alanis Morissette and Richard Schwartz which was amazing… she basically let him therapise her in his incredible Internal Family Systems style. The other also involved Alanis but it was a panel talk with Dan Siegel, Peter Levine, Gabor Maté and Richard Schwartz. It was so fascinating. Anyone who knows me knows I adore Alanis. I have loved her for 25 years… love her music, love her parenting style, love her beliefs, her philosophies, her self awareness and her openness to talk about her own therapy journey through CPTSD and addiction recovery. I just think she’s awesome. Anyway, these two videos were so interesting and helped me feel less ashamed of a number of things. One being talking about parts. There was my icon talking about, to and for her parts… in front of hundreds of thousands of people. Wow.

I really wanted to talk to Mark about this as soon as I saw the videos, but I watched it at the start of the therapy holiday which was five hundred and seventy eight years ago so it feels completely irrelevant now. Honestly, this is why I need very frequent sessions. My brother is having therapy 3 times a week just now as he’s got more time because his work still hasn’t started up yet and his progress and healing has just exploded. Attachment work needs very frequent, consistent work… two weeks off from sessions is a lifetime.

Anyway… this is a kind of mixed up ramble… I guess i’m feeling a little all over the place. I keep oscillating between wanting to shut down all my social media to wanting to be on it 24 hours a day. I have been so scared that Mark won’t come back to me or that when he does he will feel differently towards me. What if he’s ill or has decided to stop working as a therapist? What if he decides he doesn’t want to work with me any more? What if I can’t actually trust him? What if I’m too much for him?

To reassure myself I re-listened to my last session from Friday 16th and in it I shared my fears with Mark. I told him, ‘I’m scared you’re not going to come back to me, please come back to me… two weeks is a very long time and I’m going to miss you… but I hate feeling like that, I hate that I feel so scared that I’m going to lose you. I wish I was the sort of mum that looks forward to immersing herself in family life rather than obsessing about my therapist, I’m just so selfish…’ He said, ‘Yes, you judge yourself harshly. There’s one hell of a lot of guilt backing up in you and making you wrong for the way you perceive yourself to be. And I want to say this… people need people. End of.’ I talked about how it really doesn’t feel okay to need anything from anyone and we delved a little into the way my mother was when I was younger. Mark said, ‘This is how you’re left as a child with a mother who doesn’t reach towards you, doesn’t make that effort to lean in, lean forward, she didn’t find you.’ I was pretty upset and through tears said, ‘No, it was a whole childhood of me trying to find her.’

A little later Mark said again, ‘People need people and right now you need me, and I’m okay with that. You aren’t okay with it, you have feelings about it, but I wonder if you can find a little wriggle room to accept that right now you need me, and this is a growing up process – from a very young space through the developmental stages to a more grown, stable space… and that process is happening now, you’ve started it… you should be very proud of yourself. You won’t always feel like this but right now this is where you are. And I’m okay with it, it doesn’t feel too much for me, it doesn’t make me want to leave.’

I told him I was aware of really young grasping feelings that wanted to cling to him, and shaming parts that were ridiculing me for feeling this intense attachment after just ten sessions. I said, ‘I really don’t want you to go, but you are going, so I guess all I can say is do make sure you come back.’ In such a kind and gentle tone he said he intends to come back and he said, ‘it’s great that you can let those parts speak… you’re engaging with the whole of you, there’s a lot of you here engaging and that’s good… at the moment you’re feeling the burn of that but it is good. I know it’s an ongoing worry of yours that you’re too much for me but you’re not. All parts of you are very welcome here. In a sense, it matters as a much as it does that it’s painful when we have separations, there’s feelings around that because this connection feels right. It makes sense because this is an important relationship. We will survive this separation. It makes sense that you need reassuring because you didn’t have trust or security… historically… it will take time… it’s that drip drip of taking something in and it filling out from the inside.’

I have the sense that he gets it… even if not all parts of me do yet… and I can not wait to see him again on Monday to try to unpick all of this and find some sort of calm again.

Food Addiction

Addiction is a trauma response.

Food addiction has some pretty unique challenges, one being that we can’t go cold turkey… you can’t just cut food out of your life like you can alcohol or drugs. Not that it makes giving up either of those things any easier… it’s just a very different addiction to tackle. I’ve been sober for over a decade (bar the odd single glass at Christmas or a single cigarette maybe three time’s since quitting)… once I’d made the decision to quit, that was it. But food appears to have a far tighter grip on me. We all have that one vive that won’t let us go.

Another difficult aspect of the recovery from food addiction is that when we fall off the wagon so to speak everyone can see it. I can’t hide that I’ve started binging again. It’s showing. And I’m reminded of all the time’s someone made a comment about how well I was looking last year… and what they must be thinking now!

My body shame is high right now. Self loathing actually… I hate myself. I’m disgusted with what I look like and how I’ve sabotaged myself. I am body positive about everyone else but me. I was ‘mothered’ by a narcissist who valued looks over everything else, ‘the most shameful thing a woman can be is fat’. I was an average sized kid… I was never overweight. Yet at 12 years old she put me on a Slimfast shakes diet. There was no need. She shamed my body daily. My teens and twenties were riddled with disordered eating. Food was a source of comfort and a source of pain.

After years of struggling with weight loss and weight gain I decided to pay less attention to ‘the diet’ and more attention to the pain inside. And then something clicked in 2019… without me even intentionally focusing on it. My work with Anna was coming together beautifully. I’d even say 2019 was the best year of my life. I was exploring my creativity, learning to let love in, learning to be present in my body.

The following graph shows the natural healthy weight loss I experienced as a result of learning how to care for myself through the therapeutic relationship. I was eating more mindfully and enjoying movement and exercise regularly. My pain had reduced enormously. I wasn’t reaching for food to fill the hole. Therapy and self care had taken over that role. It was effortless and I was starting to learn how to love myself. I had reached a place of contentment with my body that lasted from November to March.

Then the pandemic hit and we were thrown into lockdown. I suddenly lost my beloved therapist and my whole world turned upside down. All of my group memberships stopped, the gym was closed, we were stuck at home, teaching and working from home, physical distancing was put in place, panic buying and food shortages happened. Travel bans. Job losses. Medical appointments cancelled. Unable to socialise. Unable to attend funerals. Unable to see friends. Unable to have time alone. Masks and hand sanitiser became the norm. Statistics and vaccine research plastered the news.

I had my last in person therapy session with Anna on February 29th. I had to grieve the biggest loss of my life in isolation. I had to cope without my therapist and attempt to build a new relationship with a new therapist who didn’t understand attachment wounds.

In August I had to return to my work building where I didn’t feel safe. I felt completely powerless and scared.

In September I started yet another therapeutic alliance. This time with someone who really does understand exactly what I need. And is committed to working it through with me.

This graph shows my trauma response very clearly. My addiction is food. March – May you can see it clearly. How the shock and the grief impacted my behaviour and how it showed up on my body.

Aug – Oct another spike as I was forced back to work unprotected and unprepared. My pain is back, way worse than before. I do not want to be in my body. I’m numbing my discomfort with food, pills, social media scrolling and dissociation.

I’m trying to hold compassion for myself but it’s not easy. You can feel so powerless in the cycle of mindless binging and it happens so fast. Suddenly I’m back where I never wanted to be. And although I have been through more changes than I could imagine and feel like a different person in so many respects than the person I was in 2018, a part of me still reaches for this old coping strategy. I understand it and I hate it.

I listened to a meditation tonight led by Pema Chödrön that focuses on addition. How we are drawn to scratching the itch. How the path to enlightenment and relief from suffering is in the daily practices of learning to sit with discomfort and pain. Each time we reach for the addiction. Each time we reach for food. Each time we scratch the itch… our job is to bring mindful awareness to this act, with compassion. Just to notice.

It’s going to take time. And a lot of work. But I really want to get deep into this. So my intentions start now.

Other People Feel This

When I was a child and I would feel so desperately alone and frightened and sad, I would curl up in my bed and cry silently. I don’t have a single memory of a time when I could take my distress and misery to someone for comfort and support, but I do remember all the many ways my mind and my imagination kept me company and offered me various forms of relief. Some quite destructive methods and some strategies full of innate wisdom.

I can remember my bedroom so clearly. The digital clock. The pine bed frame. Sash windows that rattled when the wind blew. The woodchip walls that I’d often pick at. The cold air outside my bed and the alone-ness. I remember knowing very deeply that no one would come if I was to cry out and that I shouldn’t call out for anyone. In these moments of total emotional overwhelm, I would quite often slip inside the deep ocean of my inner world and exist in a fantasy life where things were very different from reality. As if my body was a robot on standby, sitting or lying motionless, eyes glazed… alive only on the inside. If this parallel universe failed me and I had to endure the pain, I would feel as though the worlds suffering was pouring out of my tummy and chest. Curled in a ball in physical agony. There came a time, around the age of nine or ten, when I would conjure up this really vivid sense inside myself that at that very moment, while I was feeling so alone and so desperate, there must be at least one other person in the world feeling exactly the same as me – crying and alone wherever they were, wishing someone would come and knowing no-one would. It became a sort of repeated theme for me, like a mantra… I am not alone in this. Whenever I felt lonely and overwhelmed with really frightening feelings I would imagine all the people in the world who have felt just like that and it would make me feel just a little less alone in that experience.

I would imagine it in other situations too. For example, if I was in pain – if I felt an unexplained pain in my body (which happened a lot, and no one was interested so I had to deal with it myself) – I would think, ‘I am not the only person on this planet to have felt this exact pain’… and it would help. And it still helps. It helps to validate and it also helps to take the edge off the overwhelming fear that whatever it is I am experiencing will be so intolerable I will live in eternal pain and loneliness forever… I remember even getting to a place in my teens, when I was suicidal and frequently self harming, when I would think, ‘so many billions of beings have died in the whole history of the world, I would not be the only one to have experienced death…’ and it felt uniting, it took the edge off everything.

It made me think of this community on WordPress and Instagram… sharing with others, noticing similarities, noticing a common thread of experiences, thoughts and emotions… we are not alone, even in our alone-ness. While I was reflecting on this today I came across a video with Pema Chödrön (an American Tibetan Buddhist) speaking about the practice of Tonglen meditation. She explains that compassion or the sense of shared humanity of our kinship with each other is what heals. She says this is what heals the desperation we feel, the darkness we feel… the chain reaction of misery. ‘We feel uneasy or agitated or unhappy in some way, that spirals into a chain reaction of pain. There is a basic Tonglen logic that we say to ourselves… other people feel this. It’s enough just to acknowledge that other people feel this. May this be a path of awakening the heart for all of us. A step further would be to say, may we all be free of this. And further still is the courageous – since I’m feeling this anyway, may I feel it so that others can be free of it.’ She expands on this sense that when we feel alone in our suffering, it can help to bring mindful awareness to the present moment that other people feel what we are feeling. We are not alone in our suffering. She goes on to explain that the other side is pleasure, delight, well-being, inspiration, happiness. When you experience happiness you think to yourself, ‘may other people feel this’. It helps us sense in to the shared humanity that we are not alone, that we are not separate.

I’m quite blown away learning about all this… that it’s actually ‘a thing’… this little mantra that seemed to just suddenly appear inside a corner of my mind and offer support in my darkest moments. Other people feel this.

The importance of acceptance and grief? (Input gratefully received!)

I have a sense of something that seems very important but I can’t quite figure it out. I imagine it might be a more slippery, blurred felt sense of a thing than a solid, distinct cognitive understanding. But just in case anyone else can make sense of it or already worked on this… I’m gonna post my ponderings…

I’ve been struggling with these critical thoughts that tell me I’m gonna damage my kids just because I’m here. Every little thing I do, I imagine how I might fuck then up. I imagine them taking these things to therapy in twenty years time. Struggling with their self esteem. Having insecure attachment patterns. Wishing they’d had a different childhood. Cutting me out their lives. I imagine them recalling their mum being distant or needing space or leaving for a few hours every week (for therapy). I tie myself in knots worrying about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. How I should change. What I should do differently.

I know both of my parents behaved in abusive and neglectful ways through my life. I am working hard to not do anything that could be neglectful or abusive. I can be certain I have never called my kids names. I have never deliberately shamed them. I have never hit my children. I have never told my children sexually inappropriate things. I have never put them in dangerous situations. I have never let anyone hurt my children. I have never blamed my children for things that weren’t their fault. So, already they have a different life to the one I lived. I can already see my kids are more joyful, energetic, confident and alive and present than I was at their age. Despite this I often fear I am worse than my mum. Because I worry so much about hurting my kids, I spend a lot of time unintentionally distancing myself from them to protect them. I dissociate in their company. I find myself depersonalised. I watch my family as if I am walking through a re-enactment museum. Viewing a happy family from the outside. Not a part of it.

Despite knowing I am not deliberately hurting my kids, I still have a phobia that I am fucking them up. A fear so powerful that it feels COMPLETELY REAL AND TRUE. Whyyyy????

Does it have something to do with the fact that, on a physical and emotional level, there is a very powerful felt sense that my childhood ‘wasn’t that bad’? I haven’t cried or grieved anything that happened in my childhood. So… is it that until I fully acknowledge and grieve the severity of the abuse and neglect I experienced, I won’t be able to see the reality of the current situation and how I am as a mother and what my kids experience? Is it that I will constantly think my childhood and my kids childhood are the same thing… ‘not that bad’? Right now, what I’m telling myself repeatedly is that what I went through as a child wasn’t that bad. On top of that, another repeated story is that anything bad that happened through my childhood was my fault, therefore I’m the toxic and poisonous one and I will damage my kids in the same way that I ruined things when I was a kid.

I can’t seem to separate the two. My childhood v my kids childhood. And I’ve been thinking about the Internal Family Systems model (especially after watching a therapy session with Alanis Morissette and Richard Schwartz on the Embodiment Conference where she explores her child parts). I’ve been thinking about my exiled child parts. Maybe one or some of them are running this part of my issues. The fear that I’m hurting my kids. Maybe a child part in me doesn’t know I grew up… doesn’t know I’m not still back there… maybe part of me thinks I need to protect my kids like I protected my brother. I really don’t know. But it feels like a connection is there somewhere I just can’t quite grasp it. Somethings about accepting my childhood in order to see the reality of life currently.

So, this is kind of all over the place… but I just really want to understand where the connection is between my childhood and my motherhood…. and why this is so alive for me now when really it belongs in the past. Mark said to me recently, ‘you can’t change the past but you can change your relationship with it. At time’s your feelings come through, emotional flashbacks, memories… and you grip them and it’s a bit like getting rope burn. I think over time you can let go of the rope a bit more. It doesn’t mean that there is no rope or that it wasn’t there, it means that you don’t need to grip it so tightly.’ But I wonder if I need to really grip it hard, scream and cry out in pain, study the right twists and sharp edges of that rope… with razors in each bound knot… tend to the burns, share them and allow them to be dressed and healed… before finally letting go?

How can I get to a place where I can physically feel the reality of the situation I currently live in, where there is no fear and anxiety that I’m damaging my kids?

Maintaining a deep connection through remote therapy.

I recently asked this on my Instagram page and would love to continue the conversation here…

‘I’m looking for a bit of input… what ways do you maintain a sense of connection while working with your therapist remotely..? I know there are some amazingly creative therapists and people in therapy out there… how do you enhance your therapeutic relationship while doing video/phone sessions? I know people from all different parts of the world are at various stages of physical distancing – for me personally, I haven’t sat in a room with a therapist since Feb 29th and won’t probably get the opportunity to for at least 6 months I imagine. I’d love to hear the ideas you guys have come up with on how to stay connected with your therapists or clients while working in this strange way. What do you do during sessions. What about between sessions? Anything new been introduced through the lockdown to help with this physical disconnect? Please comment or DM with your experiences, ideas or suggestions!’

One major take away from doing this little bit of research and opening up the conversation was a resounding sense that almost everyone has found it hard on some level to feel their usual deep sense of connection with their therapist while doing remote therapy… at least for part of the time while working through the lockdown (which has obviously been longer for some people than others depending on where they are in the world or their therapists particular circumstances and/or health conditions).

One positive is that a lot of people have found they’ve been braver and more able to disclose and bring their adult part to their phone and video sessions than in person sessions. There is an element of being less self-conscious not being physically there for some people.

Most people have had conversations with their therapists to find ways to maintain the connection while working physically apart. It is something that both clients and therapists have struggled with and have had to be quite creative to work around and in some cases, bend and move boundaries with agreement on both sides for the time they’re working remotely.

Anyone got any suggestions or comments they’d like to add to the conversation? What are you doing or what did you do in order to help you feel connected to your therapist through the pandemic? Or what have you heard about… or do you have any ideas to add?

The psyche has a logic of it’s own

In my previous therapy sessions, there were so many words, so much talking. The talking was purposeful and meaningful and often led to important realisations, to tentatively feeling emotions and exploring early wounds and tunnels through time to very deep, very painful parts of my childhood. It was the only way I knew how to do therapy. To plan, to research, to write and talk and theorise and read. I’m aware I’ve circling around this topic a number of times, talking about it over and over again… I think the repetition is there because I can’t quite believe the shift I’m experiencing inside. From someone who thinks and analyses and worries and spends almost all of her time numb, to someone who feels and experiences and trusts. I’ve not fully made the transition from one to the other but I can feel myself moving.

I haven’t sat in a room with a therapist since the last time I sat with Anna on Saturday 29th of February. That’s over 32 weeks of zoom therapy… with the biggest loss of my life thrown into the mix. There were times when I literally thought I would rather die than live through it. This year has been the absolute worst year of my adult life. I guess one of the ways I got through it was to throw myself into therapy without holding anything back.

My sessions with Mark move at a far slower pace and are more gentle than I’m used to. Far less content, far more connection and depth. I think the speed and aggression of my past sessions was fuelled by my desperate need to feel like I was doing something, working on my wounding, working my way out of the pit of generational trauma. I had to work hard at it every second of every day lest I fall blind to my own abusive behaviours and suddenly become my mother. Anna desperately tried to encourage me to slow down. But I was so driven by my need to not stand still. I had to keep moving. Added to that, there was something so agonisingly painful about our deep connection and my enormous fear of losing her that I could never push past the walls of resistance and truly let her know me, too scared to let her love in for fear that I would lose her. Too frightened that the waves of grief from my lost childhood would drown me. It was only when that fear was realised, when she did actually leave me, when the waves did come and the flood did drown me… that I was able to see that the defended and fearful and mistrusting shell I had been hiding behind was the thing that drowned. The grief destroyed all of that and what I was left with was the raw feelings. The feelings I had spent a lifetime numbing. They were all preserved behind the shell.

I told Mark recently how foolish it feels to have let the walls of resistance and defence down so early on in our work together when I don’t really know him. We’ve only met ten times and even then I’ve not met him face to face. I haven’t eased him in gently! Though he knows very little about my life, there’s been a charged energy between us and the work of the therapeutic relationship has been alive from day one. Mark offered a reframe, that perhaps all of the work I did with Anna has led me to this place where I no longer need layer upon layer of walls to stand between me and the other person. That perhaps it shows progress that I am able to so quickly make connections with him. And that maybe I am able to trust my judgement more now, that I can sense when someone can be trusted with my whole self. During a particularly harsh moment of self-criticism, where I told him I wouldn’t be surprised if he regretted agreeing to work with me. Mark told me that he feels very relaxed and comfortable with me. That he is enjoying getting to know me and is really glad we met. I found it really hard to take this in and we explored what it felt like in my body to hear his words. The he feels relaxed with me. The places that tighten and the nausea that grows in my belly. Later on when I explored my beliefs that he must feel bewildered by my messy, incoherent ramblings he told me that he experiences me as being very self-aware and able to speak from different parts of myself with clarity… he said I make sense.

With Paul, Anna and Linda, there was always an agenda. I can clearly see that this illusionary control was driven by anxiety, or rather my desperate need to take the heat out of the debilitating anxiety. I would arrive with a list or at least a topic, sometimes a script for how I wanted the session to go. I could be rigid and unbending in my desire to force the sessions down a particular road. With Mark, it feels like we turn up and just see where it goes. Both holding a belief that it will go wherever it needs. Sometimes we focus on just one notion, thought or feeling… maybe a sensation… and we explore the space around it and spaces inside me that it touches. Recently he said it feels like ‘the person and all of their parts unfold gradually and organically over time, at their own pace… and that’s far more meaningful and makes much more sense than taking a history or writing a timeline or reading from a script… so I’m glad and very moved actually, given what you’ve told me about all the ways you’ve worked in therapy before, that you are here now, working with me in this very organic way, allowing your body to tell the story.’

I told Mark that there is a very young part inside me who attached to him immediately, the first time we spoke in fact. We spoke about the self-shaming, self-loathing parts that humiliate those young energies for their enthusiastic longings and the way they want to leap into his arms with seeming reckless abandon. The critical voices telling them how foolish and idiotic they are for falling so quickly for Mark when really they’re just setting themselves up for disappointment and abandonment. I told Mark that I could feel a pull from the youngest energies to show him around the place we’re holidaying at the moment, to show him the beautiful view. He said that makes perfect sense and he’d be happy to see but something stopped me following through. There is a strong desire to connect and a stronger desire to hide the need.

I told him the young parts had a very powerful fear associated with him going on holiday next week for a fortnight but the protective parts had slammed the door and weren’t letting the fear be shared. Six words going over and over in my mind that I couldn’t let out my mouth. Mark said that although he really would like to hear from my young parts, he was listening very deeply to the parts of me that ‘so beautifully swoop in to protect’ by closing doors and building walls. He offered a compromise. He suggested the fears be there but remain unspoken, suspended in the space between us, ‘and maybe we could talk around them and look at how it feels to have the fears there, without being put into words.’ That felt safer and seemed to settle my pounding heart.

We explored the delicate threads of connection forming between us and Mark asked me how the young parts felt about their feelings of attachment to him. Not the inner critic or protective parts or even the adult… how do the child parts feel about the attachment? Immediately the words came to my mind and just as soon as I knew the answer, another door was slammed between us. He chuckled in an affectionate way and noted that that happens a lot with me. Eventually, imagining the child part to be sitting in the chair beside me, I was able to tell him, ‘she says it feels amazing and exciting but then also scary because of this thing she wants to say to you about your holiday but can’t.’ He told me that he feels a connection with that young part too and that it feels amazing for him as well. He said, ‘I will make space here for all of your parts to be seen and heard and felt, but your young energies… that young part, I want her to know I’m very keen to hear what she wants to say. There was a distinct lack of emotional holding and connection when you were young and I want you to know that I am here, I’m listening, I’m paying attention.’

Eventually it felt safe to say the six words out loud, ‘What if you forget about me? Two weeks is a very long time… and we have only been working together for a very short time… and what if you forget about me? Maybe you will deliberately forget about me.’ There’s something about the way Mark makes these empathic noises that reaches the very core of the pain. He made a noise and said it sounds like a very deep and painful wound, to imagine that he might deliberately forget about me. That maybe if I pop into his mind he would deliberately push me out. I told him I hadn’t even considered that I might pop into his mind. I meant more that when he returns from his holiday he would just not get back in touch for another session. I said, ‘I find it really hard to imagine that I exist in the minds of others.’

We teased this idea out and as we peeled the layers back we found a tight ball of something so hard to put into words that initially all I could do was motion it with my hands, like fists against my chest. And we held it together and we breathed into it as my heart pounded and he told me that his did too. And then came the word ‘burden’. And then the word ‘useful’. And the word ‘purposeful’. And then eventually some more words until finally I had the outline of a sense that I believe I will only be kept in someone’s life if I am of use to them. If I can’t find a purpose in their life then that must mean I will be left behind. That if I’m not providing something then I will be burdening them. I alleviate these concerns within the therapeutic setting by paying for the time and energy of the therapist… but I can’t pay to keep him with me through his holidays… and if I enter his thoughts… I’m there without balance, how can I unburden Mark of the energy and time he has spent with me in his mind, however fleeting, when I can’t pay him for it? I can’t pay him for the time he’s spent thinking about me. It was complicated and illogical. I told him it made no sense, that the rational side of my self was offline. He said, ‘the psyche has a logic of it’s own, and it’s not for us to question… our role is just to listen and to believe. For some very important historical reason, you believe yourself to be a burden, relieved only by being of service to others and if you can’t find a way to provide for them then there is a very real fear they will abandon you… perhaps one of our goals here is for you to learn to be more ornamental.’ I burst out laughing at that and so did he initially. It made me feel hugely uncomfortable though I didn’t realise it straight away. Instead I asked him what the time was. I cracked a joke. I attempted to change the subject. And he gently brought me back each time to probe in to what I felt about his use of the term ‘ornamental’. Eventually I said, ‘I don’t want to be ornamental, useless, disposable, whimsical, lazy… shallow… empty. I want to be useful and worth keeping… I want to be valued for my depth and for there to be meaning and…’ Mark interrupted and told me, ‘something can be precious and meaningful, with depth and substance… and be ornamental. There are some things we could never get rid of that serve no purpose at all. It’s an important question for us all I think, what do I need to be, in order to be worthy…?’ And of course I know what the answer should be… but that cognitive statement of innate inner worthiness doesn’t seem to be congruent to whatever this deep knotted ball of unrest is telling me from the core of myself.

Due to us being on holiday this week, my last session was broken up with patchy signal and held on my mobile phone, stacked high on various board games… Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly and Ludo… then Mark on a tiny screen, leaning against binoculars. As has become customary, he began to close the session by asking how I was left. How did I feel. I told him, ‘If I was a kid and we were in the same room, I’d want to hug you right now. But as an adult I’ll just tell you I’m so grateful that you’ve stayed present and connected with me through all of this.’ He said, ‘You’re doing really great work here Lucy, I want you to hear me as I say that… I think you know you’re doing good work but it’s important that you also hear my voice saying it too… this is really good deep work you’re doing… and the connection between us is two way, I’m glad of it too…’ and then he tightly wrapped his arms round himself, rubbing his shoulders and upper arms with his hands as he said, ‘and hugs make perfect sense when we’re feeling a deep connection, it’s nice to imagine a hug, when we’re not able to share one in person.’

Processing the work without words

I haven’t been able to type up yesterday’s session. Not because it’s too painful to revisit or because I’m too dissociated… I think it’s because it feels unnecessary – which is completely new to me! I have typed up every single session I’ve ever had since my first one with Paul in February 2013… there have been a handful of sessions over the years that took maybe a day or so to type up or ones I could only manage bullet points or a drawing, but every session was recorded in black and white one way or another. I have only met with Mark 7 times… but these sessions have been on another level. After the sessions I have felt the intense need to sleep, something that Mark and I discussed yesterday and we pondered perhaps my body felt the need to enter a dream cycle or at least a deep sleep in order to process the more unconsious, developmental trauma we’ve been focusing on. The past few sessions I have used my recordings to help me type the sessions up after I’ve slept. This time however, I slept and then relaxed in the evening. No typing, no journaling… just spent the evening on the sofa watching tv with Adam. Today I listened to the full session again and gained some deeper insights from carefully listening to the themes of what came up for me and the responses Mark gave me. It felt like I could register things shifting inside me. I wasn’t sitting for hours on end, in my head typing words on my laptop, I was feeling and listening deeply and really considering things on a body level, a felt sense. Processing… inside my body. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before and because of my history of disconnection from emotions and my body, because of my habitual intelletualising and inability to feel, it seems really significant that I’m noticing this shift and important that I pay attention to it.

I’ve been reflecting on how journaling, writing full notes of the sessions, blogging publicly and uploading my session notes on my therapy Instagram page serve me. What do I gain from doing this? Obviously the first thing that comes to mind is the community. After a lifetime of hiding this part of me, finally I found something to help me feel less alone. The conversations, the ‘me too’s’… this has all been so healing and a constant source of comfort and affirmation for me. I still gain so much from this. But it feels like there’s another level to it. I have journaled, since my early teens. And even as a young child I would write in a diary. It makes sense I would write, I had no one to talk to. The page was my only way of externalising my thoughts. Thoughts that would stay deep inside my inner world until they were unlocked and expressed on the page. I think it’s always been part of my process. In fact Paul told me that he thought writing was part of my process when I worked with him and I never fully understood what he meant at the time. I used to email him long therapy reflections after every session that he would then give lovely long thoughtful responses to. Sometimes we would go back and forth a few times, in conversation, about both of our thoughts on my therapy work. With Anna I would write almost every day, often bringing notes to the sessions for her to read and eventually when I got brave enough, I’d read them to her. Of course there were also my drawings and my own journal notes. The work I’m doing with Mark is the deepest and most emotionally intense therapy I have ever done. It’s the work I imagined I’d be able to do with Anna in a year or so… I mean, we were just beginning to scratch the surface of those deeper layers. In the last few sessions with Anna face to face before the lockdown, I felt parts of me coming out of hiding in the room with her for the first time. It felt like we were getting there. As Mark said recently, the lockdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for me. We had just opened the door and then Anna left and the door was left wide open and all of the grief and love and attachment pain poured in and out in rampant abundance. I thought it could easily have taken a year, maybe a few years to peel back all the layers slowly and gently in sessions with Anna, in order for me to feel the feelings… but that journey has been accelerated because of the deep grief that broke my heart open when she left… no longer numb I now am able to connect quickly and intensely to all of the feelings that were walled off before losing her. I never imagined getting to this point. I remember asking people on wordpress, ‘how do you cry in sessions?’ I just couldn’t do it. Well I’ve been doing it, over and over. It’s agony but it’s also healing.

I am finding that even in these early days as I go deeper into the somatic work with Mark, I am more connected to my body and less in my head. I talked to Mark about my journey back to my body. He said it sounds like I have taken some very painful, purposeful and brave leaps of faith over the years. When I started my therapy journey I was in my late 20’s. I was very numb and didn’t know how to tune in to my feelings. Due to my automatic reflex of ‘shut down’, I just never developed ways of making sense of things inside of me. I focused so heavily on the telling of the stories. The words. I told Paul everything I could think of in an attempt to pour all of the toxic narrative from my brain into his. I felt almost like if he knew everything that had ever happened to me then he could fix me. Being CBT and mindfulness focused he was happy with this cognitive approach. Along with this, he seemed to be an intellectualiser like me. We got on really well and often had lengthy conversations about theories we had read and analysed. Maybe if I worked with him now he would do deeper work with me, perhaps he was just ‘meeting me where I was at’, going as deep as I was able. Or maybe that just was the style of work he did. I do remember him telling me he didn’t see the point in lifelong ‘navel gazing’ and I was his longest standing client. He favoured the quick fix. I always knew I needed more than that.

When I began work with Anna, I attempted to follow the same pattern of intellectualising. She worked hard to move me into my body which I found incredibly difficult but desperately wanted to do. It felt like the right direction to take things in and more in alignment with my belief that there really are no quick fixes for attachment wounding and developmental trauma. But it was so hard to internalise our work. When I wrote about the sessions it felt like it made them real. I could remind myself of the things Anna said that brought me comfort or a deeper understanding of things. And then as I shared them online, people commenting and messaging me helped solidify this process for me. Other people were able to share reflections that helped me understand what I was working through. When I wasn’t in my body, the only way I could hold on to the sessions and prove to myself the sessions even happened, was to have them written in black and white. Working with Linda, this intensified. Along with my need to read up on psychological theories. Especially around developmental trauma work… researching the areas I needed to focus on and the areas she struggled to support me with.

Working with Mark I can feel a distinct relaxing of that hyper cognitive part. There’s a sense that I can figuratively put the books down. I do still enjoy reading but I don’t feel like I’m preparing for a degree in psychology in order to fill the gaps in my own therapy. Now I am feeling more in my body, I can feel the presence of the moving emotions and the healing that’s taking place inside me. It doesn’t need to be spelled out on a page, I can literally feel it shifting inside. If writing, for me, was how I processed… now it feels like I am processing inside my body with less of a need to write the process into being. And having the recordings means I can revisit specific bits of the sessions that felt pivotal and relive them, as they happened, rather than using my contorted memory of it. This has been amazing for being able to feel a connection with Mark and has also helped silence the inner critic. When I start to worry that Mark hates me I can play back parts of the session where he literally says he is enjoying getting to know me. When I worry that he thinks I’m making a big thing out of nothing I can listen to the bit where he says my childhood sounds like the drip drip drip of neglect and abuse that conjures up the notion of ‘death by a thousand cuts’. And when I worry about him feeling like I’m too much I can listen to one of the many times he’s willingly told me, ‘you’re not too much for me, I want to do this deep work with you,’ something very real and very profound is happening right now… very different to anything I’ve experienced before. Every day I worked with Linda, from the 19th May when Anna phoned me to tell me she was closing her practice, I felt deeply that Anna she was the only one who could help me and if she contacted me I would go back to her ‘in a heartbeat’. Now though, I’m not sure. I think I would definitely go to her for some ending sessions, but I can see that my journey has taken a different turn, and I’m doing great work here that I possibly couldn’t have done with Anna. That might just be because she knew the version of Lucy I was 3 years ago… Mark is meeting me now, with no preconceived ideas of who I am… I am a very different person to the one who could not speak in sessions with Anna. And I wonder if she would forever have handled me with kid gloves because she saw me like that.

I don’t think that these reflections mean I am suddenly going to decide to stop blogging. But it does feel like I won’t be sharing huge long transcripts of my sessions anymore, as it doesn’t feel like I need that for my process anymore… I’m fully aware I may change my mind, but these are this weeks thoughts. Maybe I will share parts of the sessions… maybe just reflections… maybe I will end up deciding to move away entirely from documenting my therapy publicly. I’m not sure.  I know how much I have gained and continue to gain from reading other therapy blogs and how much I have gained and continue to gain from people reading and interacting with mine… this is an undecided, fence sitting conclusion to my reflections today. All I know is that as I consider sharing what happened in yesterdays session, I struggle to put it into words. There aren’t the words to express what is awakening inside me. And it feels a bit like bringing a newborn into the world… too much exposure feels uneasy. This is delicate and new and beyond my cognitive ability to articulate. And I guess the newborn analogy makes sense. I have never felt feelings this deeply before, it is all brand new and there just aren’t the words.

It’s a feeling memory… it’s not happening now.

(Four was watching very closely in this session.)

This was a really adult session but I think I was unaware of a younger presence until much later. I thought I felt present and aware through it all but immediately after the session I sat with my laptop out and attempted to type the session up and I just couldn’t do it. I felt incredibly heavy and exhausted and over stimulated and within a few minutes I’d closed my laptop, closed my eyes and fallen asleep. I woke up a few hours later had this bizarre sensation in my whole body. A buzzing, shaking feeling. And an intense awareness of my feet feeling very cold and my hands feeling very warm, as if I was only just noticing the presence of these parts of my body. In the evening, again I couldn’t type. I felt quite activated and began regretting everything I shared with Mark. I messaged my friend who reassured me and gently encouraged me to do some things that helped ground me. Later on that night when the kids were in bed, I laid with my head in my husbands lap and we watched a 90’s Top of the Pops programme on tv. I don’t remember the last time I did that… cuddled up with Adam watching TV instead of typing up a session or reading and researching. Watching the music from my teen years moved something deep and painful inside me and having my husband stroking my hair was so soothing. I slept holding Luna for the first time in months and it didn’t feel filled with grief, it felt comforting.

I was looking forward to seeing Mark. As the session started it was nice to see his face. We always start the session by hiding our self views and checking that we can hear each other. He suggested that we take a moment to land and arrive. I said, ‘so, I’ve noticed I’m crap at doing that!’ He smiled and said, ‘There’s no getting it wrong, but what tells you that? That you’re crap at doing it?’ I told him that I’d noticed from listening back to the sessions that whenever he encourages me to give space or to breathe together, it feels like hours have passed but actually its about 1.5 seconds… that clearly the silences are hard. He said, ‘yeah and you might not be needing them, you might need to fill them a little which is fine. I think as a principle its sometimes good to stop and experience ourselves, as a way of deepening. Sometimes that happens naturally, perhaps if I invite it you feel like you are supposed to do something. Generally speaking, I do, on arrival encourage to take a minute to settle together.’ I told him I really like that and in fact I wanted to introduce to my work with Anna and never got the chance to tell her that. I explained that I really like the idea of breathing together but it all feels intensely intimate… exposing. ‘If we’re not talking all we’re doing is looking.’ He said, ‘and that can obviously bring up feelings, we can become accustomed to sort of holding the space for them in a way, grow that muscle over time. In a way, intimacy can feel charged cant it.’

I then thanked Mark for the last session, the way he responded and how he allowed me the space to talk through everything without judging me. I reflected on the parallel between me deliberately holding something back from him and the situation with Linda and Anna holding back information from me on the true nature of Anna’s need to close her practice. I said, ‘I’ve read about how sometimes we can replay something painful with a therapist, but in the opposite way, putting ourselves in the position of power, in an attempt to heal what’s hurting and to observe how the therapist responds and deals with it to give an example to the client of how they could maybe deal with being betrayed or hurt or how the therapist copes with the powerlessness… so sometimes a client can be unkind or sarcastic or critical to the therapist, abusing the therapist in a similar way to how they were abused as a child… so I wondered if unconsciously I had held back information from you to regain a sense of power and to see how you would demonstrate a resilience and forgiveness that I was unable to embody towards Anna, without first witnessing it from the position of power… I don’t know, I’m trying not to intellectualise too much but uh…’ Mark interrupted and said, ‘But you’ve got a good brain that wants to understand things as well, haven’t you. You like to know what is happening, actually there is an enquiry there and you have an articulateness and an interest in things. And enough to know that intellectualising can sometimes be a defence against feeling but there’s nothing wrong with that enquiring ‘oh I’d like to understand this a bit better’… blah blah blah anyway I’ll shut up now.’ I said, ‘No that’s a really nice way to reframe it thank you! I guess I always saw it as a flaw!’ he said, ‘a flaw?’ and I said, ‘you’re thinking too much, over analysing, you ask too many questions…’ Mark said, ‘too much, too much, too much!’ I nodded.

We talked some more about the fact that its not in my nature to keep things back from people and having him help me bring it out into the light was very helpful. I said it was exactly what I needed, ‘there’s a fear that people are always going to use my mistakes against me, bring stuff up constantly, ‘remember that time you fucked everything up’ you know? And I got the impression that’s probably not gonna happen here!’ Mark said, ‘ah, nice!’ I said, ‘yeah I felt like you were being genuine with everything you said. I think part of the reason why I was so upset is because I really feel like you’re a nice person and I was doing a disservice to you and the work I want to do with you. Like, ‘this is not the person I want to deceive in any way’ that’s what it felt like.’ Mark said, ‘I hear its not in your nature to do that, its good to sometimes try something on for size, to do yourself in a different way which you did but you felt in bad faith with yourself, so you needed to tell me so it wasn’t between us and it would have been. It wouldn’t have sat well with you. For me I did feel the need and the sense in you doing it actually, it gave you something useful between sessions. To test your judgement… sort of, ‘I can replay that and oh I read into this but actually it wasn’t how I thought it was and…’ blah blah blah, I forget what I was going to respond to what you said, I got so caught up in my own verbosity… what was the last thing you said Lucy?’ I said, ‘um… that you’re nice?’ he said, ‘oh Christ!’ I said, ‘that you’re not the person I want to deceive? Was that it?’ Mark said, ‘yes there was something around that,’ I said, ‘I really felt that there was a power trip with Linda. Regardless of whether this is accurate or not. She knew what was going on with Anna and I didn’t know. It felt unnecessarily unkind to not tell me, but also I understand the therapeutic boundaries and the role of the professional boundaries, I get all that. But it just felt unnecessary, when you could just put me out of my misery. But it wasn’t hers to tell either. So I’ve got the logical part of me understanding why it happened that way but it felt like a power battle where it was a lose lose for me. I had to sit and grieve and wonder and cry and feel all these horrible confused feelings and come up with all of these thoughts about what might have happened and she could have just said one sentence that would have alleviated me from the not knowing. But then it wasn’t her place to say it anyway. There was a big imbalance of power there.’ Mark said, ‘mmm because she knew something that you didn’t and she was choosing for whatever good reason not to tell you ,so there is a power imbalance… ‘I know the thing that you want to know and I’m withholding that,’ sort of thing.’

I said, ‘but you know there is a power imbalance in this relationship anyway, but if you don’t acknowledge it then its so invalidating to be on this side of the room and have the person on that side of the room not acknowledge that yeah, it’s there. And also just hear me out and listen to what it feels like for me to be in the dark and experiencing this lack of power. But Linda wasn’t really ever up for that which made it even more painful.’ Mark said, ‘yeah she wasn’t willing to go with you to what it’s like for you when she was withholding and to acknowledge actually that there was a power imbalance and for you to have been able to speak about the impact of that would have been good for you, made it a bit easier. But that’s another piece that didn’t happen.’ I said, ‘no, but what did happen was she made it about her. So I would try and go over all this and would be having four or five conversations in my head and exposing them to her and she would say very little and then I said, ‘I can imagine its been quite hard for you being in this position,’ and she said ‘yes it has, its been really hard, its been a lot for me to hold, I actually wonder if it’s too much,’ so everything I imagined her to be feeling she was actually feeling she just wasn’t fucking telling me she was feeling it when I was right all along!’ Mark told me I sounded angry and I laughed and ran my hands down the back of my head and round my neck. He said, ‘what’s happening in that jaw of yours?’ I said, ‘I feel like she handled that all wrongly and I’m annoyed about it and annoyed that I’m talking about her again. It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to go through. It feels like it was easy money for her. She just sat there not really investing anything in it. Not investing in the relationship or the work we were doing. I feel like that makes me sound really horrible. I actually don’t have a problem with therapy costing money I actually think it’s the best thing I’ve ever spent my money on ever. But with her it just felt like so much hard work for me and hardly any for her as if she could just sit back and not put any effort in and that would be enough.’ Mark said, ‘yeah she sat back rather than showed up really and that left you perhaps feeling a little abandoned as if she wasn’t going to make effort for you. Hmmm.’ I said, ‘and the minute I showed any sign of leaving, I think it was a relief for her.’

I then told Mark about Linda’s reply email. I recited it to him and said, ‘why would I expect anything more!?’ Mark said, ‘I’m just thinking here, there will be an adult part that can explain it away and there will be another part, perhaps a younger part that was expecting more, that would have liked more, that that wasn’t good enough actually, a sort of perfunctory, professional email. There’s a bit of you that kind of pissed off I imagine.’ I said, ‘uhhu, yeah I guess I wanted it to mean more to her. And I had just come out of a therapeutic relationship that was incredibly meaningful where in hindsight I can see really clearly that Anna cared very deeply about me and I found it so hard to feel that at the time. Looking back on it she invested hugely in our work together and I think she would be pissed off with how things had gone with Linda, she would be disappointed. She would be proud of me for not sticking around any longer and actually moving on and trying to get my needs met somewhere else.’ I gestured towards him. Mark said, ‘yeah so notice what happens inside as you bring her in and how much she invested and her care for you which was maybe difficult to fully let in at the time. You know it was there and your sense is that she would be disappointed with how it ended up. Not what she would have wanted. Not you wanted.’ I said, ‘and I’m feeling angry towards her too and I don’t know why that’s coming up now and also feeling a bit disconnected from this whole thing… and obviously this voice of ‘this is a waste of time why are you talking about this’ is coming in. Mark said, ‘would it be okay to hear from the anger? We can move on but I don’t want to lose that bit if you’re willing to go there it sounds important.’ I said, ‘I’m angry that she left me!’ He said, ‘yeah!’ in a really animated way and I continued, ‘I know that doesn’t make any logical sense,’ and he said, ‘it doesn’t need to,’ I said, ‘if we’re talking about the child feeling of it, she promised me she wouldn’t leave me. I cant silence the logical part… that you said so beautifully, that was the bus… there was a ‘but’ you know, ‘I will do this work with you for as long as you need, but if something happens out with my control I wont be here… and that happened. However, she is still alive!’ I was finding this a bit amusing but continued, ‘I just cant get my head around what could possibly have meant she had to suddenly close her practice and not been able to give me the closure I needed. I see her interacting on social media (which I feel ashamed that I look), she’s still functioning… I feel like ‘as long as you’ve got breath in your body I just wanna have one more fucking call with you, one hour. I just wanna talk to her.’ Mark said, ‘What would you say? Can you say it out loud here and now?’ I thought for ages and told him there were so many things. ‘I wanna tell her how much I grieved. Fucking cried, sobbed every day. Went for walks and cried. There was no privacy in the lockdown. It was me and Adam and the kids in the house every day. Having to teach from home, having to teach my own kids… it was fucking hard. I felt like I was having a mental breakdown. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to make video lessons or have a shower or even wake up! It was the weirdest time. I went for big long walks in the woods and by the river and cry. I wanna tell her all that, she’d be so proud of me. I never cried, I NEVER CRIED Mark. I used to talk to her about how much I wanted to cry and just couldn’t there was a brick wall there. I couldn’t even cry by myself and there I was unable to stop crying. It completely broke the damn and I could feel everything. It used to be right there under the surface all the time and I couldn’t get it out. I’m sad she didn’t get to witness that with me. I want to tell her I used to drive to her office every week and sit in my car and cry. It felt like I was honouring all the work we’d put I to get me to the place where I could feel the grief, by feeling it. I want to tell her that I regret wasting time with her. There were so many half started things I wanted to finish with her. So many avenues I started to go down and then I couldn’t continue. I really wish I had just carried on and done the work I needed to do instead of being so complacent in thinking I had all the time in the world and I didn’t. And I want to tell her that I wish she had never made a promise that she would be there. At the start of the lockdown when I freaked out and told her I felt like she was going to leave me, way before she got ill I just felt it deeply and she said she wasn’t going anywhere and that we’d get through this together and we fucking didn’t get through it together. I want to say to her that you shouldn’t ever say things you can’t guarantee… you shouldn’t have said that and I knew you’d let me down and you let me down.’ Mark was making a lot of agreeing noises throughout and there was a long pause. I then said, ‘I want to thank her for all the work we did get to do and everything she did for me. There were so many things that I didn’t say that I really wish I’d said. I feel like I’ve changed so much in the past 6 months even without her. It almost feels like I’ve been learning from our work even after she left. Learning things about myself through her absence.’ Mark quietly said, ‘you have too, yeah I can really witness that. And I do think it’s important. You’re not going to get the chance to say all this in person but I wonder how it is to hear yourself saying it outloud now. And I know there’s more to say but just if you need to say it I’m really more than happy to witness that so that you can hear your own voice saying these things so they’re not left totally unsaid. Even if they’re unsaid to her.’

I said, ‘I feel that weird shaky feeling like eh…’ Mark said, ‘weird shaky feeling… can you sense where you feel that Lucy?’ I said it was all over, ‘but my upper half of my body, my arms… I get a lot of pain in my body and loads of pain here in my shoulders and arms and it comes out from my chest and down… I think I hold myself really tight and like hold my breath and hold my body tight to not feel the shaky feeling or anything I don’t know.’ Mark said, ‘as a suggestion it might be worth just doing this movement so it can just move out a little bit, I don’t know if that will help,’ he stretched his arms forwards and made a circle motion with his hands/wrists. I paused then laughed and said, ‘it’s so weird how I don’t wanna do what you tell me to do.’ He laughed and said, ‘I could see it immediately land on your face like you’re not biting, isn’t that interesting!’ he found it really funny and I was smiling and said how it was the same as the hand on my chest thing. ‘I so wanted to do that,’ he said, ‘well you go there in the end,’ I said, ‘but I had to cry to get there it’s like the tension… so much fight in me… don’t be a fucking idiot and do what someone tells you to do, don’t be so gullible!’ Mark said, ‘feel the energy I that, there’s power in that, feel the energy don’t do something just because someone fucking tells you, feel the fight in it.’ I said, ‘because it feels like I’m gonna be made fun of. If I do it, ah you feel for it!’ he said, ‘ahhh, yeah yeah okay.’ I said, ‘which is not the case, I know that.’ Mark said, ‘No it’s a memory. It’s a feeling memory.’ I took a big deep breath in and out and he very gently said, ‘It’s not happening now.’ And the gravity behind his words sank deep into my bones.

After a pause I said, ‘this is the sort of thing where I look back and think ‘I wish you’d just done the hand thing’… you know, that would be really useful. But maybe if I wasn’t being watched I could do it. There’s so much shame around being physically seen. I know therapeutically being ‘seen’ is about more than just viewing someone with your eyes… but even just the fact that you can see me is really hard. One of the reasons why I take the self view away, I don’t wanna see what you can see. I hate that you can see me… but the shaky thing feels like adrenalin or something, like get ready to fight. I guess we’re talking about anger. Mark said, ‘Well it’s a powerful feeling isn’t it and it pumps god knows what into our bodies to activate us for action so it completely makes sense that you can feel it there. How’s that energy doing now? What do you notice?’ I said it was still there but I didn’t feel as tense. He said, ‘ah, so there’s a little bit of softening around the edges. The energy is still there but you’ve shifted a little.’ I said, ‘anger feels really destructive to me, there’s a part of me that…’ I didn’t really finish that thought, I went down another avenue, ‘I just remember all these times that she reached out to me and I couldn’t even feel it, I used to talk about it to her. I couldn’t even feel her in the same room as me. Even when she was sitting right beside me and she would tell me she could feel a connection with me and ask if I felt connected to her and I’d not be able to feel it. I could see her trying to reach me but there was this brick wall between us and I am angry at myself for being so fucking resistant to actually getting what I needed coz it was handed to me on a plate so many times and I couldn’t accept it from her. It took me so fucking long for me to do any of the things I needed, a bit like the hands thing. For example I remember when we explored talking about hugs. Back then I wasn’t very emotionally vulnerable with any of my friends. I was the person people would go, to share their problems but I wouldn’t share my stuff with them. And I remember exploring with Anna how unlovable I felt and Anna asked me if I felt like my friends loved me and I was adamant that they didn’t. I told her about how I’d been going to get my nails done by this woman who has become my friend now. She had told me she loved when I came in, she felt she could be herself with me and she liked talking to me. And she hugged me at the end of the session… and she’s in her 50’s and I always found it so hard to trust or connect to women older than me,’ Mark said, ‘oh that’s sweet, lovely. That’s really significant.’ I told him it had been a big deal and that Anna had asked how it felt to hug her and when I said it was really nice she then asked if I’d ever thought about hugging her. ‘That threw me into this massive shame spiral where I couldn’t even look at her and I felt like she’d deliberately said that to humiliate me because we weren’t allowed hugs because of the boundaries and basically she encouraged me to ask her outright which eventually I did and she said she would hug. We talked about the boundaries around hugging, that I would always be the one to ask for them and be in control of when they happen and for how long. She said that hugs were part of relationships and that because of my history it seemed important than my young parts know that it’s okay to have safe physical touch and that she would be happy to hug me if I wanted it. I was so happy to hear that and really excited about it. We spent hours and hours talking about how my mum never wanted to hug me, she said I wanted too many hugs, the memories of her physically pushing me away if I tried to hug her. Telling me I was really needy and all this stuff around touch and hugs. Anna felt like it was a really important part of our work and it really did feel like that. But it took me like a year before I could finally ask her for a hug! After her literally saying I will give you this thing that you want and I’m totally fine with it, I still couldn’t ask for it! It caused me so much inner turmoil. And eventually when I did tentatively ask her for a hug she beamed, arms wide open for me… it was the best hug that I’d ever had and the only type of hug like that that I’d ever had. Obviously I hug my husband and friends and my brother and kids but this was different. This maternal, nurturing holding… it was like holding.’ Mark said, ‘yeah what was it like, how did it feel in your body do you remember?’ I said, ‘yeah I completely relaxed, I rested my face on her shoulder. In that split second I wasn’t self conscious or ashamed… and sometimes when she hugged me, after a really hard sessions, it would only be like a couple of seconds long but sometimes she would move a wee bit from side to side, like going back in time and rocking me as a baby, like I hold my kids and sway from side to side… honestly it was so fucking healing. I really miss her hugs. It was the only access that I had to that kinda feeling and I’d never felt it before.’ Mark said, ‘and a place somewhere in you did feel it quite strongly, viscerally le that in, and knows now what it’s like and there it is, and just to acknowledge that is in you, that you carry that place within you. Maybe just sensing it now.’ I said, ‘it feels full of grief, really sad… firstly because I don’t have that anymore, even though I know you’re tyring to encourage me to feel it inside myself,’ he said, ‘it brings up the loss I understand that,’ I continued, ‘and secondly because before she hugged me I didn’t know what I was missing out on my whole life and then I felt it and all this stuff comes up like, ‘wow what must it feel like to be a child and to have that on tap, to be able to just go and be held by someone like that, that must be amazing… that’s really shit that I didn’t have that,’ Mark said, ‘yeah yeah, imagine how amazing it would be to have had that. You can kind of feel that younger you getting that. And it might be a mixed feeling that comes with that. But you know how good it would be. And I know this is tricky territory, it’s a bit of a high wire act because you could fall off into a whole heap of grief but I think what I suppose we could tap into is like our imagination can fill in the gaps somehow. You know what that experience feels like because you had it from her and no one, no one can take that away from you. Not even her. No one can take that away from you because you had that experience. And I know you can tip into grief from her but the experience is in you. Something received that, something in you knows what it’s like. Something connected to what it had been missing all your life. And no body can undo that because you felt it, you experienced it.’ I said ,’I don’t really know how to connect to the feeling of knowing that I have that inside me without feeling the grief as well. In the last phone call I had with her she talked about the work we’d done together. She said it’s like building a house and we built the foundations and her leaving doesn’t take that away from me, it’s always going to be inside me…’ I lost my train of thought. Mark said, ‘what’s uppermost is the loss for you, the grief. Things got coupled up with loss and grief and it makes sense that it would.’

I then launched in to telling him about the struggles I used to have with staying connected to Anna between sessions. I went into great detail talking about those struggles. I told him it was an intentional decision to work with a woman because of the way I’d been hurt in the past, I knew it would be difficult to connect to a woman, I’d already worked with a man, it felt like the next step. I said, ‘Everything felt threatening, even her kindness.’ And Mark understood that. I explained that I felt like between the sessions I would worry that she would forget about me or that she would get sick of me and let me go. I told him that Anna had given me the blue heart crystal to help represent our connection. I told him about her encouraging me to connect to my young parts, that it took a lot of work even getting me to acknowledge their presence within me… talked about her encouraging me to do things for my child, to buy a soft toy. I told him about Luna and some of the sessions when I brought her in. I told Mark, ‘one of the sessions when I brought the bear in, Anna held her in the session and when I got home, I could smell Anna on the bear. I text her without even really thinking too much about it. Later she told me she felt that the text was a direct message from my young part because it wasn’t articulate and carefully planned out. It was just a quick, ‘I can smell you on the bear and I like it,’ and eventually I plucked up the courage to ask her if she felt comfortable bringing her perfume in so I could spray the bear which she did… and then I bought her perfume so I could keep it as a way to connect to her through the sense of smell… coz all these things helped me stay connected through the gaps so that I was then able to go in to each session and it not take 40 minutes for me to reconnect to her.’ Mark said, ‘that makes sense, yeah.’ I continued, ‘and the fucking point to all of this is… all these lovely things… the blue heart crystal that’s sitting in a pot on my shelf, the bear over there, the perfume, I can’t bear to look at it or acknowledge it or smell it or have it anywhere near me even though it’s a really lovely thing that brought me so much love and nurturing and connection. Not just between me ad Anna but between me and those parts of me. Its like I completely rejected it when she left and it felt like a total farse and the loss… it was jst too painful.’ Mark said, ‘how has it been to acknowledge it now, to talk about it now?’ I laughed and said I couldn’t remember why I started talking about that, ‘ I felt like it had a point… oh the hugging, holding the feeling but it being close to the grief… hmmm… how does it feel to talk about it? The inner critic stuff is saying that was a total manic overshare and I wanna know what you’re thinking about it all.’ Mark took a big breath in and said, ‘well before I answer that, your critic saying it’s a anic overshare, whats that bit of you worried about?’ I said, ‘my mum is a manic oversharer so I don’t wanna be like her… and also worried that you might think that all of that sounds crazy, nuts. Or that it sounds unprofessional or that I was too much. And its very vulnerable, delicate stuff that I didn’t even really get to fully process with Anna because it stopped so suddenly.’ Mark said, ‘that’s a good point ,yeah… So, my thought is that that place in you was left opened. And you let in the good stuff but something didn’t kind of complete so it was left open and raw and has got covered over by grief, it’s got coupled up by grief. Which makes sense because you lost the person that opened that place in you. So it totally makes sense and you’re still trying to work through that.’

I said, ‘I sued to talk about and drew pictures of this four year old hiding behind the chair in the sessions and I said to her that’s what it felt like. The articulate version of me was sitting in the chair not letting this part of me out in the session. And towards the end, an even I the last session that I sat with her at the end of February, it felt like the most exposing and like she was literally taking that four year old part of me by the hands and saying, ‘you can trust me’… no she wouldn’t have said that because that’s quite forceful, like… ‘I’m here when you’re ready’ and it was like that four year old part of me had finally said, ‘I’m ready’, and she fucking left! And I know it wasn’t her fault… but it was literally like the very last session she was talking directly to that child part saying she would prove herself to me, that my child part could test her in any way, she wasn’t going anywhere… it was really vulnerable. I was sitting with the bear in my lap with my hoodie over my head properly in this frightened vulnerable child space listening to her and feeling her there thinking this is the start of very important stuff, and then it all stopped. So its like leading a child out to a scary place saying ‘It’s going to be okay because I’m going to be here with you’ and then letting go of their hand and leaving. And the child is standing there in the middle of nowhere thinking ‘I don’t know where to go from here, you said you would be here and that we’d do this together and you’ve gone, I wish I’d never come out.’ Mark said, ‘yeah the child would regret that, would feel that she betrayed your trust. Would feel angry about it, upset, confused even.’ I got very quiet and said, ‘it feels really horrible in my tummy talking about this.’ And Mark said, ‘yeah lets just take a breath. You’ve done really well and opened up some things but I’m aware it’s quite raw so you know, lets take the last bit of the session just to let it settle a bit. I think its important.’ I said, ‘I do need to hear what you think though,’ and he said, ‘I think you’ve done really well in painting out some of the places that your work touched and the ways of engaging with your young parts was really creative. So it kind of saddens me, in a way its life isn’t it, the timing sucks, what happened. I have this image of Velcro ripping apart, that sort of horrible sound. Its not meant to rip apart,’ I said, ‘yes I agree, the analogy I had in my head when it first happened was like ripping a baby from the womb too early and ripping the umbilical cord, like I was just beginning to feel safe in this nurturing, warm space and I was torn out of it violently. It felt cold and exposing and lonely and vulnerable and scary… all of that.’ Mark agreed a lot and said, ‘I’m just gonna suggest we breath out with all of that for now and not because I’m trying to get away from it or because I haven’t heard you. It’s because I have heard you and the bigness of it!’ I laughed and said, ‘don’t say another exposing thing Lucy!’ he laughed and said, ‘not in the last 5 minutes, no. we don’t want a door nob moment that leaves you really rattled… what I mean is… hmmm… I’m willing to go with you to some very hard places, sort of go to hell and back with you but it makes sense that, you’ve said a lot. You’ve done good work today. And you’re worried what I think of it aren’t you. There’s this idea that you’ll get up and go away and think, ‘oh fuck what have I said, have I over shared?’ and that critical voice. I don’t think you have at all. You’ve just let me know the huge steps you took and the courage it took to take them. And I also get that there’s a frustrated bit that comes in because of your reluctance some times. Like when I suggest certain movements. There’s a gap between the invitation and you being able to do it and that gap makes sense. There’s something that you need and you get there in the end. That piece sounds significant, it’s that you need to arrive somewhere in your own time, you cant push that. There’s bits of you that go ‘no this isn’t right for me just now’ and it might come later. So there’s a whole range of things. And there’s also something for me, and it comes in with that image you described, being led out somewhere and being left and that would leave you feeling quite lost… there’s a lost quality. How’s it to hear me respond to you there?’ I said, ‘I like it when you do that.’ He said, ‘notice inside the bit of you that likes it.’ I said, ‘it feels really reassuring and settling and like ‘thank god I’m finally working with someone who’s happy to share with me what they’re thinking!’ you know. That whole blank slate thing is so fucking infuriating. So thank you for doing that.’

I then asked him when his holiday is. He’s away from the 17th October to 31st. I said, ‘two week is gonna be hard!’ and he said, ‘yeah and we can talk about it before we get there,’ I said that sounds important and necessary.

Mark said, ‘You’ve done good work today, I want you to hear that. I’m saying that because I imagine there might be a kick back. There’s a bit of you that’s trying to keep you right and has a range of worries and we will let that bit of you speak. But I want to say that you are doing very good work here. And I think you know that actually. But you also need reassuring even if you know it. You want to hear it from me and not just from you. So, I want to say that to you.’ I said, ‘thank you for sharing that with me.’ And we talked a bit about the beautiful weather. The sun. The autumn leaves. The rain that’s meant to come over the next few days. I said, ‘it’s a lesson in living mindfully in the present moment isn’t it, to enjoy the sun while its here,’ and Mark said, ‘what is it William Blake said, ‘kissing the joy as it flies and seeing eternity in the sunrise’… and it’s gonna rain the next day is the thing with that. I talked about how fresh and renewing the rain is and that it’s so green and lush here because of the rain. And then we said goodbye, until Monday.

And then I collapsed.

I haven’t cried since the session. But I have felt the strong desire to hibernate. To be cosy and warm and looked after. This stuff feels raw and sore and delicate and like it needs safe nurturing.  It feels like Four was under the covers beside me, listening and waiting to see how he’d react to what I was saying… and I think, after listening back , that he might actually be okay with all of this. With all of me.

The trees so beautifully teach us how to let go.

Sept 2020

Yesterday morning before my session, I went for a walk through the forest. The woodland that held my grief day after day through the lockdown. While losing Anna. The trees that witnessed my breaking, my tears, my raw open heart. Back then the leaves were green and the sun was high in the bright blue, fluffy cloud sky. Now the sun is low and casts bright rays through the branches. The trees are beginning to so beautifully demonstrate their cyclical process of letting go. As their golden yellow and orange leaves fall, creating a blanket of muffled loss under foot, and the stark branches reach to the skies as if to scream, ‘look at how bare I am, look at how vulnerable and stark and empty these arms are… I’m no longer clinging on to what I once had… look how I have let go… now I am ready to receive what I need’… I am reminded of change.

The trees look so different now and so do I. I am no longer clinging to what I was losing, I’m witnessing it around my feet and I’m standing arms wide open ready to receive, ready to welcome the next part of my healing journey. While also surrounded by evidence of what was lost… and acknowledging that it helped me grow into who I am now. The leaves that cover the forest floor will decompose and provide yet more nutrients to the roots of the trees and in turn, the branches will once again produce fresh new shoots. My grief is fuelling my growth in the same way… and in time new green buds will form… in fact I can already feel the tiny flicker of something new and hopeful glowing just beneath the surface of my rib cage… and my roots feel grounded today in an awareness of the fact that I am still standing. That I have survived so many storms and so much loss. That my leaves were oftentimes ripped from my tightly grasping fists… too soon. And yet they did fall and I did feel empty and I do still cry out for what I’ve lost. And also, sitting alongside the pain of it all, is hope and potential and openness to a way forward. And gratitude.

May 2020