This is long because it’s a complete journal entry (including direct quotes from the session), showing my raw process as I’ve tried to understand what happened the past week.
The week following our first in person session was the deepest pit of disconnection and despair I’ve felt since Anna left. It was actually terrifying. Before that session, I was in some sort of cloud of delusion that it could never happen between me and Mark. He has been so attuned to me every single session since our very first meeting, I was convinced I could never feel unsafe with him… forgetting that I am healing from developmental trauma and that the pain and confusion of attachment disruption can trigger enormous dysregulation beyond cognitive, rational understanding. It’s called complex trauma for a reason!
I sent Mark four emails in the 24 hour period after Monday’s session, the first three steeped in anxiety and fear, the forth a more grounded ‘realisation’ type email. I then sent another email just before Friday’s video session saying, ‘Mark, I really need to try to open myself to connecting with you today. Please can you help me do that. I’ve been feeling everything so intensely since Monday and it hurts so much doing it alone. I’m sorry for all the emails this week I really lost my capacity to hold it in. I’m sorry I’m being such hard work. I’m just overwhelmed by it all at the moment.’ He replied saying, ‘will do’ with the link to the session.
As we clicked on to the session I could feel myself sinking behind the black wall of disconnect and for most of the session I stayed behind it. There were a couple of very powerfully connecting moments that I’ll write about later, however there were also a few things that happened in the session that I really need to talk to him about, that didn’t feel good, that I’m sure I’m misinterpreting. I need him to know how these things landed with me or they’ll always be between us.
Usually when I send Mark an email immediately prior to the session telling him I’m in a bad place, he thanks me for letting him know and he’s very soft and patient with me, he helps me feel his safe presence in a gentle way and I feel nurtured and cared for. On Friday’s session, after we got the initial ‘hellos’ out the way and both reduced our self-view, I think I dropped eye contact momentarily, and in an upbeat sort of attention grabbing way (as if saying ‘testing, testing’ at a newly switched on microphone) he said, ‘so… connecting! connecting!’ Like he was trying to remind me overtly what the focus was. It was so uncharacteristically insensitive, but I didn’t notice it at the time I just slipped further into myself. Then a bit later I told him it felt like he was a different person on Monday and he said something about how he is definitely the same person and he even remembered to wear the glasses I like (which is a thing that came up a while back when I struggled to connect with him and we realised a part of me feels more attached to a certain pair of glasses of his). Then he told me a story about his best friend’s dad who had a long lost twin that he met later in life and how in person meetings can be strange. From the triggered space I was in, I felt invaded by this disclosure, like he just didn’t get what I was going through, the last thing I needed was for him to tell me something about his personal life.
As I type all that out, from my adult perspective, I can see I’m being ridiculously overly sensitive… I also know that when things don’t make rational sense, something very important from the past is at play… I mean, these were just normal conversation and would feel fine in any other context… but the triggered young part of me, experiencing a rupture in the connection with my main attachment figure, could not handle this. I can feel into that triggered space now… it says I don’t like it that he randomly said the words ‘connection’ rather than literally doing the nurturing, gentle work of connecting with me. It felt impatient and dismissive of the very real difficulties I was experiencing. I don’t like that he brought up the glasses thing, I never once told him to only wear those glasses and the fact he brought it up made me feel like he was making fun of me, and also like he’s a bit annoyed that even though he went to all the trouble of looking out and putting on those glasses, it still wasn’t enough for me. Like he resents making an effort for me. I can feel and hear that this is all triggered stuff… irrational, highly sensitive, emotional child stuff and it hurts like hell. It feels like he’s humiliating me and I don’t like it.
I just listened back to that part of the recording and I can hear it from a different/non triggered space. He says the ‘connecting’ comment in a playful way, yes it’s not exactly nurturing but it’s also not shaming. Then after that I say something about feeling like he’s back (as apposed to the weird ‘Mark twin’ I felt like I met on Monday) and he says (in his usual gentle tone), ‘here I am, in familiar surroundings to you, glasses on, just the way you have always known me and it feels familiar and safe… take it in… and we won’t shut out the other stuff but see if you can connect with this just now.’ I can hear he’s not humiliating or belittling me. He’s not being dismissive or shaming… wow… it really is such a mind fuck how being triggered can completely taint how you receive certain things, how you experience a situation. The part where he talked about his friend’s dad, he explained how it related to us and said, ‘when there’s an intense connection and you haven’t met in person, it’s gonna be charged… that first meeting is bound to be charged.’ and he’s right! And I like that he called it an intense connection, because that’s exactly what it is. He wasn’t being dismissive, he was listening and tuning in to me.
Anyway, back to the session… Still unaware at the time of how misaligned I was feeling with him, I told Mark I needed to go over what Monday was like for me and he agreed. I then said I actually wanted to hear what Monday was like for him first. He was very thoughtful and paused for a while before telling me it was quite a surreal experience for him, the whole day. He told me it was a readjustment for him to not be at home as he has been for 14 months and that that will have been in the room with us. He then said he really enjoyed showing me his room and that although he was aware it was discombobulating for me, he liked welcoming me into his space. He said, ‘I felt settled in myself and okay with how we did things, taking our time, orienting you in the room, no big rush… it felt okay to me that you weren’t fully in your body because these things take time, and we weren’t going into any deep stuff!’ He then said something lovely that I couldn’t fully take in during the session but I have since played it back many times… ‘it was also nice to pick up on your energy, and some aspects of your facial expressions that kind of felt more present or affecting face to face rather than on zoom, that I really appreciated. Nuances of your character that seemed to show up more in your energy. The subtle stuff.’ He encouraged me to take a moment to feel how what he said arrived in me and after a pause I said I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of being noticed in more detail and he said, ‘I realise that might be challenging for you, but it was really nice for me and I felt it was important to let you know… there was something very positive in it, something kind of soulful about it and actually… you might not like this either but there was something beautiful about it.’
I told Mark it was really hard to believe what he just said and that I must be really crap at reading people to which he responded very quickly with, ‘you’re not.’ I then said, ‘well I must be really good at projecting my stuff onto other people,’ and he picked up on that and said, ‘ah, okay… what were you reading then? You said that for a reason.’ I told him I was sure he felt uncomfortable with me in the room, awkward and like the in-person me was a let-down. That he was disappointed he was working with me because I was such an empty shell, I couldn’t even feel anything, all I could do was think my feelings. He said he appreciated my ability to notice that I was thinking my feelings rather than feeling them and then said, ‘On Monday, what I was with, was something you named in the session, that the hour would be spent getting used to the room with no other agenda other than to let that unfold and it would make sense that you would be at a distance from yourself and that we would be recalibrating to each other’s energies in a room.’
I still felt at a distance. Even as he was saying all that. I felt deep grief and I told him it felt like something had ended, something really important to me, and I was having to start over again with something that didn’t feel safe in a deep way. He said this sounded really important and to follow the feeling. I told him it was a mind fuck to be back in that building again, fucking weird to be driving into the city after over a year of lockdown, weird to be sitting in a therapy room without Anna… it was all just so triggering.
I said, ‘I’m annoyed with myself because I got messages from this younger part of me in the weeks running up to the session and I ignored them all, even mocked them actually… I remember joking with you that we should do a zoom session from the office before I go in… we should have done that! I also joked with you saying, I think I’m gonna want to just stand on the step outside with you before we go in… I should have done that, it was light outside and really dark inside and you had a mask on and I couldn’t really see you and it didn’t feel safe but I ignored that part of me, in fact I think that part of me stayed in the car or on the step… not all parts of me went in with you… Anna would have said I abandoned myself in that moment, I did abandon myself and I’m annoyed coz I thought I was past that these days. And I got the clear message in the session, I even said it to you, that I wanted to turn away from you, but I just jokingly said it but I wasn’t paying attention… these were all things my young parts were asking me for and I ignored it all, another time I got the sense that I wanted to sit on the floor by the door, I should have done all of that!’
Mark said, ‘Hmmm, yeah I’m following.’ I then exhaled deeply and said, ‘your experience was so vastly different from mine and when you were telling it to me earlier, that you felt relaxed in yourself and fine about it all, I just felt myself going further and further away from you. You enjoyed the session, you liked being in your room with me, you liked showing me your space, you felt calm and grounded… but it was hugely triggering for me and you weren’t feeling how fucking shit it was for me and I’m annoyed that I didn’t see that and catch myself. It’s just a bit scary and weird. Why didn’t I do all the things that I wanted to do that would have helped me feel safer?’ Mark said, ‘something held you back, your young being knew what she wanted but you felt that you had to rock up in your adult self and just get through it and it meant you abandoned a bit of you that needed a stronger hand holding through the session and you didn’t do that and I didn’t help you do that either but now we’re talking about it we can better plan for next time… you know like, does all of you want to sit there or does a bit of you want to turn away… that sort of thing.’ I said, ‘yeah, just get through it… god those words make me want to cry my eyes out… just get through it… that’s what I spent my life doing. A part of me was terrified and I completely ignored that part of me just so I could do what I’ve always done, just do what’s expected… just get through it… coping adult, just be normal, just chat away and be normal. I should have known it was going to be intense and I should have prepared more, talked about it more, followed the need to do any of the things that would have helped me feel safer. I’m disappointed that both of us didn’t see that, we both got swept up in the excitement of life getting back to normal but it’s not back to normal for me, it’s all brand new and scary for me.’
‘I actually felt like I was going insane on Tuesday. I was at work trying to be a grown up, not knowing how to cope with it all wanting to go out the fire escape door and drive away and hide.’ I started to well up but continued talking, ‘I felt like I was going out of my mind and felt like I’d lost this thing that I felt like we’d worked really hard for.’ Mark said, ‘It’s that to some extent isn’t it, things are so hard won and feel so easily lost for you, as if you don’t get to keep the good stuff, as if it will be ripped off you at any time. There’s a place you go to when you feel like you’ve lost something good and you went there and it was overwhelming for you on Tuesday… can you feel me still here now?’ I said it felt like ‘observing, but not connected,’ and he said, ‘Can we let that be what it is? Good to notice that you can’t quite fully let that connection come forward but you can observe it rather than feel it and just to let that be what it is… and actually I do want to apologise because it does feel as if I could have found some way of reaching out to your young being if I’d have clocked that she was pushed down in some way and that wasn’t good for her. I could have maybe done something about it and in my head I think I thought we’re just going to be wherever we are. But the way we both did that session wasn’t good for that little being inside you actually, she needed something very different and she didn’t get it and for that I’m deeply sorry. And I do want her to hear that, I want her to hear that. And I want to cut a deal with her in a sense… that she does find some way of letting us know when she feels dropped, abandoned, as if her hands not being held when she needs it held, something like that, we need some way of her being able to get attention when she needs it and both of us need to listen to her in that.’
I said, ‘I find that really hard when I’m in that space. I couldn’t have said it was happening on Monday. I wasn’t consciously holding anything back.’ Mark said he totally got it and knew that it felt at a distance to me. I said, ‘It’s only when I reflect on it and look back that I can see there were so many messages from inside that I ignored. All the things I said already… but I think if I’d done any of those things, took my blanket out for example, it would have highlighted that I was struggling and that would have been way too vulnerable, too visible. I can hide in plain view behind the coping adult! To actually get up and move in front of you to go sit down at the door for example it’s like being under a microscope, then it would highlight the fact that I’m struggling…’ Mark said, ‘yes it would highlight that you’re struggling, which would be fine, you’re allowed to struggle… that’s a difficult edge for you, it might not just be talking to the here and now, when you struggled when you were young, whether you could let yourself be seen, whether your young being could be seen struggling and feel safe and okay and held and be confident that you’d get a good response. And I bet we’re touching that as well right now.’ I started to cry a little here and said it wouldn’t be okay to show any feelings, I just made sure everyone around me was okay. Mark said, ‘you made it safe for yourself by making sure the adults around you were happy…. when you were distressed or overwhelmed or hurt or somebody did something that wasn’t right for you, this is what you did to your feelings, you hid them behind that part of you that can meet everyone else’s needs.’ I nodded and we both sat with that for a bit… at the time I felt on my own with it, listening back I can feel him completely there with me. It’s fascinating/insane how I can so quickly and easily become triggered and view the interactions through a veil of misalignment and disconnect. If it wasn’t for the recordings and my ability to listen back from a different space, I would face the same torture I experienced with Anna which at times was like starting over again in the attachment with each and every new session. Something inside my brain drives a wedge between me and the other person through misinterpretations and perceived shame and disconnect… why do I do that? How does that serve me? It constantly keeps me from the connection I so desperately need.
At one point I said, ‘the whole therapeutic relationship is so fucking weird and intense… if you and I had met in another capacity I would love talking to you about your life and all your stuff… I want to! But it evokes this horrible feeling inside. Even just stepping into that room that you’re super familiar with, it’s got all your beautiful things in it that shows me so much of who you are, things that I know are deeply important to you. That have got nothing to do with me (and the rational part of me is like, of course, it would be like you coming into my classroom or something)… but…’ Mark said, ‘yeah lets put that to one side for a moment and just follow what that touches for you,’ I continued, ‘that I’m on my own with it all and that I’m separate from you and what you said earlier, when I have something good it can easily be taken away from me, in the room I was so powerfully aware of something deep inside me, not aware but it was there… it felt like I didn’t belong there and I was an idiot to think that I knew you or that you knew me… it feels like anything we had built is dead… everything before is forgotten…’
I then found myself, in my mind, back twenty-odd years… I told Mark that visiting him in his office in a beautiful apartment building in the city reminded me on a body felt level of visiting my dad in his first flat in the city after he left our family home. Going to his flat and seeing nothing of me or my family in it. Just a bare, empty, soulless shell of a building with no love and no connection to me at all. The words just poured out of me, ‘It felt like my dad, the dad that used to live with me, had died… and I was going to have to get to know this new ‘dad’… one that was dating young women only a few years older than me, one that would later go out on the pull with me and my friends, one who was very selfish and used me just like my mother did, as an unpaid, unqualified therapist and wing-man… I was always just someone who would be there for them when they had nothing better on offer. Sitting in a room with you, with all your beautiful things around you, and none of me there, triggered me into that space of feeling like I didn’t belong and that maybe I never did. Like ramming a crow into a hamster cage and expecting it to settle in… I felt completely out of place, uncomfortable and not welcome.’ I then told Mark about a letter I wrote my dad in the weeks after he moved out, confessing to him that I was self-harming, that life was unbearable, even worse than before he moved out and I couldn’t cope. I told mark how my dad never replied to me. I had to wait the agonising week of hearing nothing from him then I discovered he left a leaflet for the Samaritans for me the next time I visited. The shame and abandonment in that moment. The clear message that he didn’t want to deal with me on any deep level. Or that he couldn’t, I was too much for him. In a session I took my dad to with my first therapist I asked him about that letter, asked if he’d actually read it and he said, ‘I read it over and over, I just didn’t know what to do,’ when I relayed this to Mark he made a pained sound at that moment and I told him my dad had said, ‘I just hoped your mother would deal with it,’ Mark said, ‘of course she wouldn’t,’ with a really sad, serious tone. And I cried, shaking my head. I said, ‘He left me with her, he knew what she was like and he left me with her.’ Mark asked me what I felt towards my dad in saying that and I said, ‘I just wish he hadn’t left or had taken me with him or wanted me to be there at all.’
Towards the end of the session I said I was realising how much I’d underestimated how hard the first in person session was going to be and Mark said, ‘Let me try and help unpack it for you and be as present as I can and see if you can let it in… it is like we have had a sort of major upset and we’ve had upsets before and come out the other side and this won’t be forever, we’ll find our way back. But what it speaks to is something historical of people being there for you or not and you being able to be there for yourself or not, perhaps that thing of little you being there for everybody else but yourself. Trying to make a situation okay for you by looking after other people but in that something happens for you… that little being doesn’t get to fully exist.’
Mark gently stopped us about fifteen minutes from the end and asked to check in with all parts of me to take a bit of time to see if I want to come back to the room next session. He said, ‘especially check to see that your young being is on board with whatever we decide.’ I said, ‘I do want to come back, I just want to do it differently and I guess pay more attention to what’s going on and remember that when I feel numb there’s always a pay-back, it’s like ignoring a screaming child… it just gets louder. I need to make sure that I’m paying more attention.’ He said, ‘and what might you need from me in that, to support you? You might feel it’s enough to have said that but I’m really open to hearing how I can help you in that.’ I said, ‘I think I need you to help me slow down. But in a really active way. Because, obviously I’m really hyper vigilant, and I’ve said this to you months ago… but your calm groudnedness sometimes triggers in me what my dad was which was just passive and unresponsive… and I need something more in those moments. You know? If you’re sitting back listening, calm and grounded and paying attention, if I’m triggered in that space it feels like you’re not really here you know?’ Mark said, ‘Yeah I turn into dad in some way, it touches that bit of your history. It’s really positive that you’re letting me know that.’ I said, ‘Yeah I couldn’t have said it on Monday, I didn’t know. Hmmm, and it would help if you checked in with me somehow, at every stage… that everything is okay… I don’t know Mark… just please be more actively, obviously there with me?’ He said, ‘Yes and I guess supporting you to be as there as is right for you to be and not making it wrong for you to be a little bit absent as well.’ I said, ‘I think it’s a really hard balance though,’ to which he said, ‘it is,’ and I continued, ‘I totally get why you’re saying that and I get that there’s the ‘acceptance of what is’ but me saying I’m numb or I’m not fully here is like I’m saying ‘I’ve locked a child in that cupboard’ and you’re saying, ’okay let’s leave her there’… you know?’ Mark said, ‘There’s something about the anxiety dropping of that child, and you, that will allow her to come back in. And, the reason I’m saying it the way I am, is not just to be totally accepting of what’s here, although that’s part of it, is that it will need space for the anxiety to drop and then something will come in, you sort of reassociate to get technical.’ I said I need to be more conscious of grounding myself at each stage, ‘I’m standing at the door, you’re opening the door, I’m walking up the stairs… you know?’ Mark agreed and said it’s like the induction at school in the first year, back when he was a kid you got thrown in the deep end but now we have play afternoons and it’s gradual and a slow easy process so the child can adjust and feel safe.
Mark said, ‘I think it’s good we’ve spoken about this. I knew it was a huge big deal you coming in and we’d spoken about that and I really got it but I guess there’s a tendency with me, there’s a bit of me that almost wanted on the entrance and getting in the room to down play it and make it as normal as possible to make it safer, but actually, it didn’t make it safer for you. That’s what I’ve learned today. You needed me to slow you down. I hadn’t got it before when you said the bit about standing outside before the session but I get it now, taking the mask off… I hadn’t got the full significance of it until today. Rather than being overly normalising and no big deal sort of thing, you needed me to sort of turn towards it with the gravitas that it deserves.’ In that moment I felt completely connected and understood by him. It’s like being woken up by a touch on the hand or something. I suddenly felt alive again.
I said, ‘Yeah totally, exactly that. I mean, I was aware that you were grounding us and orienting me in the room, I got what you were doing, but it’s almost invalidating to the part of me that was terrified.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’ve learnt from us picking apart what happened and it’s good that I’ve got that. And I hate the thought of invalidating the frightened child who had reminders historically of those situations, of going somewhere unfamiliar and everything it brought up for her and needed to have a slower induction to it all.’
There was a bit of quiet and he said, ‘How are you feeling about where we’ve been today? Coz we have been picking this apart and it’s such important work and we haven’t completed it, there’s heaps here off the back of Monday and where it’s taken you through the week and what we’ve had time to speak about now. I wanna check in with you before we stop and see if you can feel a connection.’ I said that just in the last few minutes I felt the connection and I thanked him about four times for listening and taking it in and being willing to reflect on himself and working at understanding me. He said, ‘Thank you for hanging in and trying to articulate what is really quite difficult to put into words because you’re connecting with places in you that are so young and actually might not have words really so I think you’ve done great at keeping solidarity with your young being and helped me to understand what she needs. so I really appreciate that. Coz I do need help in that. I kind of got it wrong. Paradoxically I was trying to make you feel safe and the way I did it had the opposite effect. And I’m not whipping myself, I’m acknowledging how it’s been and how it needed to be.’ He then mentioned my dad and the letter and said, ‘It certainly lodged with me and we will revisit that.’ I thanked him again for it all and told him the whole session was such a struggle but towards the end I could feel him there with me and that I was really grateful and I didn’t him to whip himself as he’d said. He replied, ‘Yeah I know I’ll get it wrong, I’m not defended about getting it wrong. If I got it really very badly wrong for you I’d feel bloody awful about it but the thing is that we can talk about it, it’s fantastic… it almost makes getting it wrong, getting it right. I think we can both be proud that we can do that together. Relationships where you can’t say, ‘oh you got it wrong’ doesn’t have much of a solid base to it, does it?’ I reminded him that Linda used to say I was critiquing her and she didn’t understand my need for reflecting on this stuff and Mark said again that he believes it’s the foundation of this work, ‘it’s where the gold is… and you know what, it makes us stronger… we’ve got through stormy seas before, we’ll do it again… well done for staying connected to yourself and to me as you told me what you needed that I didn’t give you.’
And now I’ve reflected, listened to the recording a few times and really dug deep, I can see what a holding and reconnecting session this was. The whole hour was a hard won road back to each other… but the past few days have been a huge rollercoaster… feeling every emotion possible. I am so grateful that I get to listen back to the session. It gives me brand new insights that I couldn’t reach by myself. It’s exactly in these kinds of rupture moments that I need to dedicate a lot of time and energy into figuring out the patterns and what went wrong, so I can learn more about myself and heal those places in me that are so easily triggered.
And tomorrow is ‘in person session number two’… fingers crossed this ground work we’ve done will help.