The first time I let him see me cry… without asking him to look away.
I reached out to Mark via email just before the session…
Hi Mark, I just felt the need to let you know that I’ve been in the thick of massive waves of grief this morning and for hours last night. I was really triggered yday afternoon and it just spiralled to the point of total despair. I managed to hold it together until the kids went to school this morning and then I lost it again. I felt myself shutting down about half an hour ago and was freezing and very spacey so I’ve put my electric heat pad on and I’m starting to come back a bit but I still can’t feel anything in my body. I guess I just wanted to say all this before the session although I’m not really sure why I couldn’t just say it at the start. It’s going to be really important that I feel a connection with you today coz I’ve been completely alone with these massive, scary feelings and now there’s this numbness which is also horrible. I really hope I’m able to let you in a bit like I did on Monday coz that was really nice and I really need that a lot today. See you soon. L
…and he replied…
Ok – I’ve got you.
I felt so shut down as the session approached that I wanted to sleep. Just log on and sleep right there with him keeping me company. As soon as we connected on zoom Mark said, ‘Let’s take all the time we need to just arrive together.’ There was a pause and he continued, ‘I’m glad you let me know a little of what you’ve been struggling with this morning. I might need to come a little further forward for you to sort of feel me here with you.’ And he sort of moved forwards in his seat but also I felt a sort of energetic moving towards, like he knew I wasn’t going to be able to make the effort to reach out today so he was moving closer.
It took me some time to communicate anything at all. I told him I didn’t feel like I was really there and he encouraged me to be ‘as not here as you need to be, don’t push past that… there it is, the not here…’ and we just took some time to feel that. Then I guess I was able to look at him a little more as I started to sense in to the fact that he wasn’t forcing me, and he wondered aloud if I was able to be ‘a little bit here and a little bit not here’. And so we felt in to that too and I said I was starting to feel a warmth in my hands and feet that I hadn’t felt earlier. Like my body was slowly filling up with a life force again. The talking was slow and gentle and spaced apart with lots of time between words.
Eventually I said, ‘I hate feeling like this. It’s when I need to feel the most with you but I feel the most away from you. It’s been really hard.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah, I know. I absolutely got that. And that’s coming in with you and stopping you being fully here with me and stopping you from fully feeling me here with you. Which is maybe what you most need. How much of us making contact are you in touch with?’ I said, ‘the tiny bit I can feel is making me so sad, so I want to not feel it.’ Mark encouraged me to feel the edges of that contact and the edges of the sadness and I said it was because he was being kind to me. He said, ‘yes, it’s there, the sad part… the kindness brings up a range of emotions, I get it. It’s problematic for you because of your history. Kindness is not straight forward especially when you’re feeling like this.’ There was some more quiet and then he said , ‘I cant not feel kindness towards you because I really can feel that you’ve been going through it so I do feel that I want to reach out.’ I felt a disbelieving part turn away from this and indignantly questioned, ‘Why?’ Mark patiently said, ‘Why? Well It’s a heartfelt thing… there’s a pull to move forwards.’
At some point I tried to explain what had been going on for me. I talked about the grief that was coming up about Anna. I went right back to the previous day and reflected on the fact that there is something very triggering about hometime which makes me completely disengage. The energy and the smells that are noticed on a body level at the transition time of the kids coming home from school. I felt myself moving very deeply into this somatic memory. There were no words but my body was shaking and Mark encouraged me to notice with curiosity what my body was telling me about what it remembers from this time in the day.
I talked about what happened in the evening that layered on top this bodily felt sense of happenings from my childhood that are largely wordless. I told Mark that as we move in to a second lockdown here, although I never felt like I came out of the first one, there is a shift in the air and things are starting to feel restrictive, constricting and oppressing again, the powerlessness feels suffocating again. I told him that my husband had gone out to the studio to get one more session done with his band before the lockdown and so I put the kids to bed by myself which is unusual. As I lay on Reuben’s bedroom floor listening to him fall asleep I began moving in to a deep grief. I told Mark, ‘something about my face on the carpet, the darkness… and I was looking under his bed and I remembered, not in words but in a feeling.. I remembered… I could feel in my body… it was a feeling of a need to crawl under the bed and hide… and then along with that there was a realising that its not normal for kids to want to hide. That my kids don’t ever hide under the bed or anywhere and they’ve never ran away from me and I guess I just really felt it when I was lying there, powerfully felt what I used to feel and uh… that was a lot to feel… and then I had to supress it to get through him falling asleep and then get out of the bedroom and down stairs and then there was just so much sadness…’ Mark said, ‘yes you’re grieving for your past in a way.’ We talked about how my grief for Anna has reopened all the other wounds and that talking about her with him in the previous session opened that up. I told him that I reread my journal entries from our final sessions and the last phone call. ‘it was like walking through a door and the wave just hit me, so powerful, she’s really never coming back.’ I felt like I was struggling to articulate myself and I got into a cycle of self damning when Mark said, ‘You’re doing just great Lucy, I really want you to hear that, you’re doing great. You’re doing a good job with trying to help me connect with what you’ve been experiencing.’
I told Mark that I listened back to the last session many times and the bit where he said that I’m not back at the start really helped reassure me. Then I said, ‘and I do know I’m not back at the start of my whole journey, but I am back at the start of a new therapeutic relationship.’ Mark said, ‘Do you mean that it may feel better when I’ve sort of downloaded on my disk a lot more of your history and what you’ve been through so it doesn’t feel like the early bit of the work? You’re looking forward to us being on the other side of that? And it’s a process.’ I agreed and continued, ‘and losing Anna… having her alive but not in my life… well that’s just like my mum. I mean, she’s not…’ Mark made a noise and said, ‘yes… she’s not meaningfully in your life in a way that’s good for you.’ Then he apologised for finishing my sentence and there was a lot of space where I felt the emotions well up inside. He then said, ‘where’ve you gone?’ but I couldn’t speak I just started to cry. Eventually I said, ‘it feels punishing, it’s not fair, she’s sitting in her own house half an hour away, it hurts so much, it feels unnecessarily painful when she could make it go away… I don’t know… I’m getting annoyed with myself… I don’t think she meant to go away. The last session she said, ‘see you on Tuesday’… and we never did… and I read over all my notes, I didn’t record the sessions back then so I’d write them out immediately afterwards so I would remember them.’ Mark said, ‘yeah sure, makes sense. And a way of keeping her close as well as just remembering the sessions.’
Mark said, ‘lets take a little pause and maybe focus out the way and just connect with each other and see what happens.’ We were looking at each other and he had his hand on his chest. I ended up with my hands over my face and he asked me what I was aware of. I felt a small voice escape, ‘I want to be sitting with you I don’t like this I feel on my own.’ He said, ‘mmm yes. It is limited isn’t it. How it would feel, and it would feel different if we were sat together.’ That amazingly brought me back out of myself and I sat up, had a drink of water and continued talking about the grief. I said, ‘it feels like walking through a long corridor in a hospital or something and you’re walking quickly straight forwards and then bang through the double doors and through another corridor and then bang through some more doors and each corridor is a different state, different emotions and it changes so quickly, I told him that’s what my mind is like just now. The really intense grief and then bang it’s off, nothing, then it would happen again then nothing and I cant control it and it’s really big and scary in my whole body.’ I got frustrated again and said I couldn’t find the right words. Mark said, ‘I think I’m getting it, I’m getting the territory. Griefs a bit like that you can be floating along quite okay and then all of a sudden from nowhere this whoosh comes in and this wave of feeling that is hard to put into words just overtakes you and almost steels time almost as if you’re in this altered state and then you come out of that you come through the doors and you’re going along with life as normal and then through the doors and another bit hits you. That experience makes sense to me. And I also feel confident that, painful though it is, it is a good thing. You are touching on layers of grief and it’s moving through. It sort of rises and peaks and discharges. That strength of emotion is a bit woah, rollercoaster. So the scary feelings makes sense and they’re coming because they can and because you’ve got a big enough container almost to let that wave through you if you like.’ There was some silence and he asked where what he said landed with me. I said, ‘it’s a softness inside, gentle like a layer of something soothing over the panic… but those aren’t the right words…’ Mark said, ‘can you stay with that? Without words even?’ I quietly said yes and he said, ‘just welcome that in, it sounds like a good thing to feel. don’t pressurise yourself to put it into words just let yourself have that.’ Which I did for a while.
I told Mark that I’m realising on a deeper level how much I miss Anna. That I know I will be able to do deep work with him, there’s not the panic around that which I did feel with Linda. But there is this sense that you can’t just replace one therapist with another, ‘its not like you can just pull out a plug and push in a different plug hoping it’ll be the same it’s not the same and what I had with Anna was special between us and now that’s gone.’ I struggled to stay focused on that conversation and he said, ‘let me say a couple of things and you don’t have to make too much effort. What ive witnessed in you is that you’re acknowledging a little bit more how it is. You are mourning the loss of Anna a bit more deeply. And I always really love your metaphors they speak really well, you said it’s not like you can just unplug and put in a different plug of course it’s not the same. You do feel a confidence with me, you said you will get to do deep work with me… I think you already are actually, I think you are touching some very deep places right now. You’re touching the heart of your grief. We’re finding a way to speak about it which is hard because it’s more visceral than cognitive in a way and a making sense of it. And I would have a strong hunch that you are grieving for more than just Anna. And we’re just letting that move through.’ I sat looking to the side of the screen for ages and then he said, ‘and I’ll be with you, every step of the way with your grief, when we’re together.’
I have listened to that bit of the recording on repeat. There’s this settling of the anxiety that happens when I can hear that he really gets this. I said to him I like that he said he likes my metaphors and I started to try to tell him that Anna said that. I wanted to tell him that in our last phone call she told me she loved my analogies and to remember to use them with whoever I work with. I wanted to tell him that she told me that every time she uses an analogy she thinks of me and it makes her smile. But I couldn’t get any of that out and I felt myself being pulled out of my skin and float up above again.
I was able to eventually say that I was struggling to stay focused and I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t say it. I told him it felt like the doors were locked. He said, ‘There is no need to say any of it outloud. This is sensitive territory for you and notice what is happening inside as you’ve said the pieces you have said. And also there’s something that stops you saying any more. Just honouring that, you might feel annoyed with it but it’s trying to protect you in some way I’m sure of it.’ I felt more alive again and said, ‘It happened in the last session and I listened back closely to see if I could figure out what had freaked me out and made me go spacey… it’s the critical voice telling me that what I’m saying is stupid and you don’t understand what I’m saying and it drives me away and I go away and that happened again just now and it keeps happening coz this is really important and then it’s like I panic and think ‘if you share that and he doesn’t get it or he doesn’t say the right thing it’s gonna be really painful’ and then it makes me go and then I cant find the words anymore and then you talk and that brings me back down into my body again coz I can hear that you’re safe and you understand.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah, you know what you’re doing right now is you’re really skilfully clocking the process… and it’s not wrong… and it sounds like it’s going to keep happening between us and if you can just be curious about it rather than wish it were different. And to really notice those places that we go together when we go through that cycle. I think that will be really helpful, because it is something from the past and it is the way you’ve helped manage difficult experiences particularly of loss or that someone’s not gonna be there for you in relationship and your psyche has found ways of making that as bearable as it can.’ I was really quiet and eventually Mark asked, ‘can you hear that?’ and I said, ‘yeah’, he said, ‘does that makes sense?’ and I said, ‘yeah’, he said ,’good’ and then I said, ‘it makes me feel sad. I was thinking a lot of things. It does make a lot of sense. I’m so glad you get it. And it’s nice to hear you talking about being curious about it rather than being critical…’
I then said, ‘and I thought about how my kids don’t do that.’ And he interrupted and said, ‘they don’t need to do that,’ in a more firm voice than before as if he was really trying to make me hear it and I quickly switched and said, ‘I know but fucking hell how bad was it then for me to feel like I needed to do that?’ and in the same firm voice Mark said, ‘pretty fucking bad,’ and I said, ‘what the fuck?’ as if I was just learning this for the first time. I said, ‘I don’t think I knew… that’s awful then!’ and started to cry and Mark said, ‘it is awful, it was awful. Yes it was. It’s horrible that your psyche had to find all those clever ways of helping you through that.’ Through tears I said, ‘I don’t think I really fully got that.’ He said, ‘no you wouldn’t have done, course you wouldn’t have done. I mean, it would happen… I know you’re getting upset… it would have happened under your radar, it would have done it for you and you’re just clocking how it does it now between us and that’s really good because you’ll grow awareness of these places and something will come together over time. You won’t need to do that with me forever I’m sure of it. It will shift and you’ll have a trust that we’re here together and it’ll be okay. But given where you’ve come from and your history it makes perfect sense that you’ll go down that rabbit hole or round that loop or whatever metaphor speaks to it you know.’ I said, ‘it’s like these layers of realisation… you think that your life… that its normal, when you’re a kid that’s just the way it is. Then when I read all the books I learned cognitively, I gained awareness, the knowledge that all the stuff that happened was not a healthy environment for a child and but then I really feel like I’m feeling it and lying on his floor I really felt it as if for the first time. The fear that I had… all the time.’ I was crying a lot at this point. Sobbing in my hands. And it’s only on listening back that I realise I didn’t ask him to look away. Mark said, ‘Yes you touched that place because you were able to…’ I quietly spoke in a disjointed way through the crying, ‘…the carpet and the dark and it felt safer under the bed, what the fuck?’ Mark said, ‘yes it’s upsetting to know that’s how you felt back then and you can connect with that part of you. It’s desperately sad isn’t it for that child that felt safer under a bed rather than just sort of sat on it trusting that things will be okay, you didn’t have that trust… and your tears are very welcome by the way.’ I said, ‘and I was totally on my own.’ And he said, ‘you were, with feelings you shouldn’t be on your own with and you had nobody to trust to help you with those feelings so you were totally on your own which makes them hard to come into relationship now with, with me and you most needed it, it’s what you need, and it’s so good that you’re not on your own now and we’re able to thread through it together, you’re doing really good work and it’s fucking painful.’ I was audibly sobbing through him saying all of that and it felt intense and alive and powerful and unlike anything I’ve ever let myself experience and listening back to it I can feel the intensity again.
Eventually I calmed a bit and sorted myself out and told him I felt like a fucking mess and he said, ‘I sometimes think as human beings that we’re all messes in progress… but we tell ourselves we’ve got to have it all together, and that’s what we put out to the world… and you don’t have to here, you can just be however you are.’ I said this feels like a very messy time in my life and he said, ‘it is you’re feeling all sorts of things, its like your past is coming straight through, you lie on a carpet and up it comes and you clock it and it’s deeply wobbling to the core and its almost an opportunity to sort of reclaim that child that you were ,’ I told him I didn’t think I knew how to do that and he said, ‘you’re doing it you just don’t realise you’re doing it. Something being worked through here.’
We talked that through a bit more and I talked again about the triggers that brought these body felt emotional flashbacks to life. I talked about how the kids come home happy and they’re both fighting to tell me about their day that they both run up to hug me and they don’t question that there will be snacks there for them, that they don’t feel the need to be apologetic about asking for anything and it just feels like I’m noticing things on a painful, deep level. Mark said, ‘yeah they are how you should have been and it confronts you with how you were.’ I said, ‘yeah and it feels like I’m just learning this for the first time. Just how bad it really was.’
We were talking about this thing that I feel I’m going through and trying to put words to. I explained it as being like a shedding or an evolving, a relearning. Experiencing a new way of being that is painful and hard because change is painful and hard but that I know in the long run it will be for the greater good. I talked about having to walk over hot coals to get to where I want to be and then I said, ‘It reminds me of Platos allegory of the cave. I remember learning about it at uni and it’s come back to me a few times on this healing journey of mine…’ Mark said he knew it and I elaborated on how I felt it fit here. ‘So all the people were imprisoned facing the cave wall watching the shadows of life projected onto the wall thinking that the images they saw were the truth and all there was to life. Never experiencing these things for themselves, just trying to make sense of the limited things they were being shown… like me reading theories and stuff in books about healing from trauma… Eventually one of the prisoners broke free and turned around, he struggled away from his old life and the new one confused him. The sun blinded him. It was painful and hard and unpredictable and so full of things that seemed familiar but very different to what he thought was the truth. So I’m now feeling body memories and emotions and waves of grief and I’m crawling through the healing and it’s actual agony… I recognise the experience as being familiar from the pages of the books but living it is completely different.’ I said to Mark, ‘there’s this dilemma… well you can’t really ever go back to staring at the cave wall once you know the truth… but you have to adjust to this new way of being. There’s this painful breaking free and the sun is blinding me and my body hurts…’ Mark said, ‘notice – you turn (on my screen) that way…’ he pointed to my right, ‘freedom lies this way… notice that, notice where your body looks to.’ I made an agreeing sound and he said, ‘just notice that spot that your eyes go to and let yourself have that, just as an experience, a wordless experience.’ I did. I sat and felt in to the space I was leaning and looking. Imagining the fresh air outside the cave and all the possibilities. Then the pain of it all approached me again and I said, ‘there’s just so much heartache and grief and questioning I’m going to have to wade through to get there. It makes me want to turn back sometimes. I feel really kind of ‘in it’ at the moment and there isn’t really a ‘there’ anyway, because even when I get ‘there’ there’s still going to be all this living you know? Its not like some destination where everything’s gonna feel completely peaceful and fine.’
Mark said, ‘No, but you’re in a different relationship with your way of being. Its like you’re not so transfixed by the mirage at the back of the cave you’ve got a different perspective and that shifts everything. We can get hypnotised almost by our mental contents cant we and project them on to the back of the cave and it’s an appearance that doesn’t have substance to it. It just feels very real. And actually from another perspective it starts to be put in it’s place. And there’s this thing of kind of turning towards the light. And it was quite palpable where you went to with your body and where your eyes went to, just sort of saying that out loud to me and I just thought I’d bring that to your attention.’ I said, ‘one other thing… this is for another time… if you’re in relationship with someone who’s still sitting there staring at the wall of the cave, that’s really hard to function in a relationship when you feel like you’re breaking away and working really hard going towards something else, towards reality, and they are still sitting there, chained. But that’s maybe for another time.’ Mark said, ‘hmm… hmmm yes I hear you. I’ve got it.’ I told him that’s why the therapeutic relationship is so important to me. I just don’t have this level of emotional intimacy with anyone else, even my husband. Mark said, ‘yeah and sometimes that’s the way of it isn’t it. And you do have this space where you can go to places you cant go to with anybody else and feel things together and it’s okay you’ve got somewhere to put them. You’re not just holding them on your own which I feel is hugely important. Hugely important, especially for you because you were so alone. Finding your way in the dark on your own and that’s not right is it so you don’t want to reproduce that, so you have this space.’
I told Mark it surprises me every time I get the sense that he’s okay with me wanting and needing connection with him. That he’s not trying to force this independence onto me. I told him that I keep expecting him to think I’m too needy or clingy but each time I feel a need for him he seems happy I’ve reached out. He jokingly said he’s not into John Wayne therapy… there’s no sending me off into the sunset by myself. ‘We do have clingy, needy parts. We all do. I mean basically speaking from two energies… the polarities – we wanna go like that…’ (hugged his body) ‘…and we wanna go like that…’ (pushed away with both hands). I laughed and said that’s exactly what I want and he said, ‘yeah yeah, join to the human race, you know. Its how we all kind of react. We contract in, we expand out, we push away and we grab towards us. And actually what I think is more important is that we become intimate with those energies and intimate with those forces inside ourselves.’
After a couple of quiet minutes Mark said, ‘I know there are a lot of thoughts going round but my sense is that you’re a lot calmer now, is that right?’ I said it was. I said I felt more connected with myself and him. I told him that it still felt like all the words were in a different language in my head and I cant translate them and get them out my mouth but I did feel a calmness. He said, ‘notice that. Notice what tells you that inside.’ I told him I wasn’t deliberately being resistant and that I do eventually want to share things with him and he said, ‘I’m not reading it that way. Just to respond to that there’s plenty of space. Don’t give yourself a hard time for taking time with it. From my side, it really isn’t wasted time. That moment where I just asked you to check in with your calmness and you felt it. I think that’s important. You know, there’s no content in that is there, just a ‘oh yeah I’m feeling a bit different and I can feel that from my insides’ I mean nobody’s going to write a novel about it I mean we could try to put words to it but there is value in feeling it and noticing.’ I wholeheartedly agreed and told him how hard it is to put this work into words and he said, ‘yeah and if you could put the welcome mat out and appreciate that wordless space, you know your experience. Experience isn’t wordless, we could load a lot of words onto it which can be helpful but words aren’t experience. And what I’m helping you to do is touch your experience a bit more deeply and it’s not the story about what happened its how the story touches us. And it’s a deeper level of connecting. And I think you’re getting it.’
We wandered around the areas we touched on in this session and I reflected on how I was feeling throughout, the ebb and flow of connectedness and the ebb and flow of grief. At one point Mark said, ‘we will get through it together, the only way is through, you’re going through real experience, rather than an idea about it. And the grief unlocked that. It was a painful gift if I can put it that way. You can see that but it doesn’t make it easier.’ I said, ‘yeah it is a painful gift… like she is impacting my healing journey even after leaving.’ I started to say that I felt much more stable and could tell him what I wanted to say earlier about Anna and the analogies then immediately changed my mind and said, ‘oh actually I can feel that upset so I’ll not go there just now.’ And Mark laughed and marvelled at that, he said, ‘that’s great isn’t it, I love that. I love that… you were like ‘oh I feel okay now I’ll just say it’ and then ‘oh no actually that does feel painful maybe not’ and so you caught the edge of something. Isn’t that fabulous how you steered yourself.’ I was laughing and said it’s like I was about to burst through another set of double doors but instead I felt the door with the back of my hand and felt the heat of the fire on the other side so decided to back off, with only 5 minutes left of the session. Mark said he loved that metaphor and I said that was brand new, I’ve never done that before. Mark said, ‘There’s a choice there, a conscious choice that’s taking care of you. What’s it like to notice that new thing that does that, even without you having to think about it?’ I said I was really grateful because I used to retraumatise myself by oversharing and then the regret would eat me up between sessions. he said, ‘That’s really lovely to hear, good for you, you’ve learned a different way of doing yourself. Slower is faster, I’ve said that to you before. Being able to touch the door but yeah not for now, we’ll come away, we don’t want to get burnt.’ We laughed as he continued the analogy with the fire brigade and all sorts of unnecessary detail and then in the lull after the laughter died down I said, ‘I do really appreciate you doing this with me Mark.’ He said, ‘Yeah I appreciate doing it with you as well. It’s delightful to see the quality of how you’re engaging with yourself. You’ve got everything you need and the way you’re doing therapy I have no doubt that you’ll get to where you need to be. You’ll get somewhere good for you.’ I told him that felt nice and that I could feel the warmth of it in my chest. He said, ‘ahhh let yourself have that. Stretch that out for a minute, that nice thing.’ And then there was quiet. For a minute or so. And Mark said, ‘Were just resting together. No more work.’ In a gentle tone that you might speak to a child at bedtime. Settling them down for sleep. And I did feel calm. And connected.