She broke something inside me

I’m not really sure how to write about this. I guess I haven’t written a post like this in a while… one where I don’t have ‘all the answers figured out’ and haven’t processed it in therapy yet. But that’s the point, I haven’t processed this yet and I feel in a bit of a weird space about it all. I feel a need to write and share, so here it is. Any encouragement gratefully received.

We’ve been working through one of the most painful parts of my childhood that just kind of felt like a shadow of a memory but it’s slowly coming to the surface before my very eyes – like the separating of oil and water… I can’t mix it back into the dissociative fog no matter how hard I try. It’s right there pulling on my sleeve day and night.

I can’t really put into words here just now exactly what it is because it is so unprocessed and raw. It involves sexual stuff and my mother. This subject has lingered in the background and I always expertly minimised it and invalidated any feelings I might momentarily have felt. I have been unable to share or work on it with anyone. I can’t remember exactly how it came into the therapy room with Mark but it started a couple of months ago. We moved into a deeper layer of the work, we started doing more work on the developmental trauma, the stuff around what life was like when my mother was pregnant with me and what I know to have been my experience when I was born and the first few days, weeks, months and years of my life. A lot of body stuff was coming up and I didn’t always have words for it but amazingly it felt like we were really getting somewhere. There was a lot of temperature changes through my body and shaking showing me that I was processing and discharging stored traumatic energy. Then the other stuff started creeping in… as if I’d worked through a layer and we were stepping down further. And the shame was like a thick black plume of smoke that emanated from my pores and filled the room and I was so scared it would suffocate him or make him scared to stay close to me. I spent many in-person sessions with my hood up, curled in a ball, tolerating more and more contact with the shame being ever present. It really is quite remarkable how Mark is able to so slowly and gently help me feel safe with him, with myself. He is so very patient.

Last Monday my anger surfaced. And with it a huge gust of dissociation. We rode the waves together, the foggy dissociation slowing us down for respite between the crashing waves of anger. I attempted to tell him something specific related to sex and my mother and slipped into a very young space. Listening back to the recording is hard, my voice goes so quiet and shaky and I can hear Mark reassuring me in a quiet, gentle voice, ‘This is such important territory for you but it feels so yucky doesn’t it?’ I made an agreeing noise and managed to tell him I was scared he could see me through her eyes. He gently asked me what he might see, if he were to see me through her eyes, though he assured me he wasn’t seeing me through her eyes. I said he’d know how disgusting I am. We felt around the body energy of that, as much as I could bear, and I shared my fear that he’s going to want to stop talking to me. I told him that I felt like she broke something inside me that was meant to be innocent and pure and still there and it’s not there anymore because she broke it and I was crying so hard at that point and I have never felt so held. He was repeating, ‘it’s okay,’ with the most soft tone. With emotion in his voice he said, ‘just offering you so much support now Lucy, I’m right here with you in this… and I am not disgusted by you… you were a wonderful little girl, a beautiful, bright, clever, adaptive, creative person… your mother couldn’t see it, couldn’t celebrate it, but we can see it and hold it together… you so weren’t given what you needed… starved of what you needed.’ With any kindness, praise and love, comes more shame and a tightening and resistance and so then he guides me to slowly let a little of it in. Towards the end of the session I said I felt raw and exposed and I was scared he hates me now, after what I told him. He reassured me, ‘I absolutely don’t hate you and I love working with you and I love the work we’re doing together, painful though it is. And in no way am I disgusted. I am moved by your courage in opening this up given the amount of disgust and shame you feel towards the part of you that went through this with her. And it’s good that we’re lifting the repression off this, a little piece at a time and then you’ll be free of it in time, it won’t be all locked up inside you forever.’

Between sessions I’ve felt such an intense need to be close to Mark. I know he won’t reply at length to any messages but every so often the need for contact becomes unbearable and at some point I sent a message asking for more time. He offered me a 90 minute session which gave such relief, just having it to ‘look forward to’ helped the neediness and longing quieten down. In that session I was able to open up another very painful wound and we’ve touched on it a couple of times since. Then on Monday, for some reason it was like the gatekeeper just went ‘whatever’ and threw open the door and I ended up telling him a handful of things I’d never told anyone before. Some of it was horrifically embarrassing but I just seemed to be on a roll. It helped, I felt liberated and validated as he told me how awful it was, all of it. Then on Tuesday I listened back to the session and was so triggered with the guilt from ‘telling on her’ and shame about him knowing what he now knew, that I almost cut myself for the first time in longer than I can remember. In my head I could hear, ‘but I love her so much’ going over and over. It was agonising, this conflict between the anger and rage about what she did and what she took from me contrasting with the pure unfiltered child love I had for her. I haven’t felt a love for her in decades. I emailed Mark in complete distress, crying my eyes out, telling him how guilty I felt and he replied with a very connecting and reassuring reminder that he will be there to help me with it all next session.

That next session was yesterday. I talked of my guilt around everything I told him. I told him I felt so bad telling him all those things about her, the worst parts of her… I then took a step deeper into the murky waters and said, ‘but I feel like it reflects on me in some sort of merged way… I mean, I was there too… like I was complicit, I feel ashamed as if it was me… I didn’t refuse to get in her car, I didn’t tell her to stop…’ Mark interrupted and said, ‘you were a child,’ slowly, twice, which made me completely leave my body. When I was eventually able to speak again (after a lot of careful connecting grounding from Mark), he asked me where I’d gone and I told him that what he said to me felt like the most humiliating, insulting thing anyone could say to me… it felt exposing. ‘Like two people dueling and one person knocks the sword from the other persons hand… you disarmed me and I felt totally vulnerable and unprotected and so I left my body.’ Mark said, ‘I rather aggressively knocked your sword from your hand, without your consent, I’m sorry I did that… are you in touch with how you felt towards me when I did that? When I humiliated you like that?’ I told him I didn’t feel anything towards him I was just aware of feeling threatened by him. He said, ‘I don’t want to put words to your experience but if someone says something to me that feels humiliating or threatening, I’m going to have difficult feelings towards them, and I want you to know you can have difficult feelings towards me, I want you to express it all towards me.’ Eventually, after he repeated, ‘you were a child,’ a few more times I could finally feel the heat of it and not dissociate. I told him I felt anger towards him. He said, ‘Anger, yes well done, good, yes… anger… really happy to hold your anger with you Lucy… can you let the anger come forward towards me? Let it be felt and take up space?’ I said, ‘I didn’t want to be a child!’ and he said, ‘wow… yes… you were a child and you didn’t want to be a child, and me pointing out to you that you were a child rubbed salt in that wound.’ I told him I wanted to be bigger and stronger and that I didn’t want to be weak. That it made me feel helpless.’ he asked if there was any spaciness around the helplessness and I said a little. I said I needed to be more grown up and leave the child behind. He said, ‘When you were a child you wanted to be somewhere else in yourself, you wanted to be something else, hard for you to own your child in a sense, understandably. There’s the vulnerable child underneath the protector part… your young part… you had to grow up above it, with your sword. You found ways of looking after that vulnerability, you needed to do that back then. And I’d hope over time you wouldn’t need to do it with me so much.’ and then the connection cut out and we lost each other with just a few minutes to go. A minute later he phoned me and made sure I was feeling okay before ending the call. He then replied to a panicked email from me reassuring me that we were ‘okay’ and that I’d see him Monday.

And so here I am with anger and shame and guilt and grief and love with nowhere to go and longing and everything else in the mix. I’ve been going over things this afternoon and I know what’s coming… I just can’t imagine saying it all to him. How the fuck do I say all these words to him? I remember trying to explain to him why I feel I can’t say in words to him what I know I need to say… I don’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to say gross, crass, vulgar words to him that I would never say conversationally to anyone. He asked me what I think might happen if I make him uncomfortable and I said he would want to stop working with me. It always comes back to being left. I’m scared to make him uncomfortable. I’m scared he’ll think I’m just like my mother. Vulgar and hyper-sexual and seductive and abusive and completely inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. I’ve also realised today that I’m scared I’ll become aware of his sexuality when I bring more of this stuff into the room. I really feel in my bones that I’m safe with him but I also know he isn’t a robot. He is a heterosexual man… and I can’t bear to think of him like that. How can I talk about body parts and sex acts to him when he is a grown man who has experience with these things and I am a grown woman who in my adult life has also had experience with it all but I’m not talking from my adult mind… I’m talking from my child heart space and arghhhhh I can hardly cope with the intensity of it all. But the truth is I couldn’t come close to any of this with Anna. Because although I have been hurt, sexually, by men… but I was hurt more by my mother. I could never tell Anna any of that because she is a woman and to my child, women = abuse, it complicated things so much. I have never trusted someone the way I trust Mark. I’m just so scared of what’s to come. I know that the way forward is going to be telling him that I feel like this before going any further but it’s just so yucky and painful and gross and terrifying! And even posting this feels scary because it’s vulnerable and doesn’t feel ‘finished’… help!

You chose this

Something kind of unnerving has been happening in my sessions. I’m remembering things that I wasn’t consciously aware of before… though I had a shadow of a memory of it all. It’s like knowing something again. It’s hard to explain. A few sessions ago I remembered my mother used to say to me, ‘we choose who our parents are going to be, before we’re born,’ and I remember feeling such a twisted confusion around this. She’d say, ‘you chose me,’ in a tone that sounded almost like delightful gratitude to other people, but it felt threatening to me. ‘You chose this life and you chose me to be your mother…’ I chose this? Why would I choose her? It was my fault before I was even born!?

She didn’t feed me for the first 48 hours of my life, didn’t hold me either. Requested that I be fed only distilled water. For two days and two nights. Mark has been helping me process agonising body memories and what feels like life threatening needs as they gnaw at me from the inside. Birth trauma. Infantile annihilation fears. Complete terror. Dissociation. Grief. Longing. Core shame.

And there’s a new layer that’s peeled back. That maybe she knew what she was doing. That maybe it was deliberate. Mark said, ‘it’s hard to imagine she couldn’t see the pain she was causing, that she didn’t know how wrong it was… I think maybe she did.’ I sobbed lying in the fetal position, head covered in pillows. ‘I’m still here, holding you in this,’ he’d gently whisper.

I’m feeling so in touch with this heavy grief. I remember writing about this before, that grief is grief is grief. The heavy grief I’ve felt over lost relatives is the same as the grief over losing Anna and it’s the same as this grief… what is this grief? Am I grieving the loss of the hope for a happy childhood? Grieving the mother I never had? Am I grieving the realisation that despite all the love I poured into her, she never loved me back? That I still love her… and I loathe her… and I loathe the part of me that loves her… it’s all I can hear in my tear filled head, ‘but I love her so much!’ Am I grieving the part of me that died in childhood to keep her afloat…?

This grief is heavy and keeps blindsiding me.

My neediness…

After a few months of my intense ‘neediness’ heightening (noticing my avoidant/distancing parts receding and the needy parts becoming more powerful and all consuming), I experienced my needs being expressed loudly and with agonising urgency and passion, and then experienced having the needs MET by Mark… which has been so deeply healing. And the one occasion where he missed a cry for help and we worked on it tenderly and with genuine compassion and holding. I thought I’d write a poem about the experience because it’s been so huge.


‘Need’ – turns out it’s not a dirty word,
Deserving of shame and contempt.
And maybe I’m not too much…
Just the people I was asking, had nothing to give.  

All those years…
Believing I was a damn needy child. 
To ask for anything, felt like I was robbing a charity…
Their need always greater than mine. 
Of course they held on tight
To what little they had.
I’d give them the shirt off my back if it made them stay. 
Two sizes too small but they squeezed themselves into it anyway. 
Then left. 
Leaving me naked and wanting. 
Always wanting. 

Bone dry with need. 
Always so fucking thirsty. 
Gasping for a drop,
Tapping their dry wells.
Trying to get what I needed,
From desert folk.

‘You were starved of what you needed as a child…’ 
Starved of what you needed. 
What you needed. 
How can a need be wrong?
Being starved is what’s wrong! 

Always so fucking hungry and empty with the aching pain of it. 
Hollow and gulping down the shame of the need in an attempt to fill up the gaping spaces inside me. 
Who wouldn’t need, when they’ve been starving all their life. 
Spent all my life pushing it down under the water. 
It haunted me. 
Taunted me. 
It screams beneath the surface of the ice.
Drowning in its own expansive emptiness.
It lies there like a turgid corpse,
Glass eyed face pressed against the frozen blanket of silence – full of its own want. 
Staring up at me through the freezing glass. 
I stare back like my life depends on it…
A sense of so much wasted time,
Hurry up. 
She’s drowning! 
Urgently, impatiently waiting for the cracks, the heat of another, the thawing. 
Waiting for the hand. 

And this time – a hand is willingly given. 
With no catch?
Who knew…?
Some people want to help!
My needs don’t scare him. 
When able, he’ll meet them, 
Fill the cup, 
Offer the plate, 
Wrap with a blanket, 
Extend a hand.
And when it can’t be met,
It’s felt through with kindness. 
An open hearted kindness that’s so fucking gentle it’ll blow your skin off with it’s delicate touch. 
Tenderly, tenderly exposing the naked need. 

And the hand 
didn’t demand. 
It waited. 
For trust. 
There’s no rush. Slowly, slowly. 
‘One little piece at a time’. 

And I learn…
Met needs don’t breed… 
Like the rapidly multiplying cells of a bacterial culture in a pitri dish. 
They melt,
Like flakes of snow on a river. 
They’re absorbed. 
And slowly, slowly
The ice cracks,
The barrier melts. 
A hand is grasped. 
A breath is gasped
And many more!
Breathing. Breathing. 
Delicious and satiating. 
Hunger satisfied. 
Thirst quenched. 
Shame neutralised. 
Need met. 

And life feels a little easier to live. 

The Tree

This woodland of mine.
A perplexing mystery of knowing and not knowing.
For so long, couldn’t see the wood for the trees…
Or the trauma.

Tiny incremental changes, in their almost invisible way
Appear to me, every day.
New shoots, push eagerly through the thick carpet of leaves,
Past decaying fallen trunks.
For every one shoot that journeys up to drink the fresh air and sunlight,
there are five dozen others that are drowned in darkness.
Not all that is planted will take root. Some lay dormant, not dead.

Deep in the shadows, obscured and dangerously easy to overlook
stand the oldest trees.
These trees, planted before this woodland belonged to me,
they steal the light.
Twisted, knotted giants, weaving and overshadowing,
threaten to cast darkness over the entire grove…
Swallowing whole
any new growth.

Nature – don’t let it fool you with it’s butterfly wings and easily bruised petals,
It is anything but delicate!
It bursts forth and crushes,
It consumes and overpowers.
Vines threaten to strangle the life out of the trees they climb.
Mother arachnids eat their lovers and babies,
Survival of the most ruthless and cunning.

Nurture – not always given freely and without cost…
Resentment and generational debt,
Handed down in the form of inherited shame. Given with one hand and taken with another.
For the crumbs of kindness – forced gratitude’s.
Nothing like a mother’s love…
and other platitudes.

In this woodland of mine – One tree, ignored for so long…
Sits syphoning oxygen from it’s young neighbours,
It’s offspring.
Silently tearing at their new roots beneath the ground. I always knew it was there. And also, I didn’t know.

When it’s foreboding presence became inescapable, I set about to tend to it’s poisoned leaves… accompanied by a guide. Turning over each leaf carefully, We painted over the dark spots. Until they were all undetectable.
And thinking I’d succeeded in eradicating the dis-ease, I wandered far enough away to take a breath.
To reflect on the healing work I’d done.

Only to notice, from a distance…
Whole branches decaying.
Threatening to reach out and throttle anything living nearby.

And so, I returned to hack and strip bark,
With a new companion I removed the dead and broken shards,
Break the brittle shell.
Heart pounding,
Digging fingernails into the soft rotten flesh until it was all gone.
But this work ended prematurely, Once again alone and facing my greatest loss yet.

I turned my back on the stump to find new support.

His calming presence came to shine a light and hold a mirror to what was there. To ensure I would not have to do this on my own.

Together we looked at the woodland, the stump and her surrounding beaten land. From this new vantage, it appeared, Like an invisible web – a thread connecting everything…

It was all being starved.

Underground we went,
Heaving lungs and crawling skin…
Amongst the grotesque and wretched.
I dug at the diseased heart,
the roots…
Uprooting, wrenching the tightly gripping crippled fingers of trauma from the ground.

It all must go
And it does seem to go,
One piece at a time.
As we move gently around the fog.

And the earth feels the agony of it being dragged and exposed into the light,
The gaping hole where it once was,

And I am not alone in the agony.

And the other trees move in to grieve,
And bow their heads at what should have grown there.

And through the tears and hurting heart,
I hear my trusted witness offer a kindly reminder…
The forest is not the tree.
The forest did not ask for the tree to be planted there, it was there before it even became a forest.

I am not my mother,
And her pain was passed on to me before I had the chance to refuse it.
I tear at her legacy and rip the layers of her wounding from my soil.

And now the whispers of green leaves all around…
With room to move and grow
They utter with gratitude,
‘Here we are…
with all of this space,
to spread tentative fingertips of branches and
the softly outstretched relaxing of roots…
here we are…
and now we can breathe.’

(After another insanely intense session delving deeper into my core wounding and the rage and anger and grief I feel towards the abuse I suffered at my mothers hands, I found myself describing the work of healing this wounding in therapy to a diseased tree… a tree that I tried to heal by first treating it’s symptomatic diseased leaves with my first therapist Paul… then with my second therapist Anna I noticed all of the branches needed to be torn down. Finally with Mark I am digging at the roots. And it is pure agony and also the most healing thing I’ve ever done.)

Whose voice is that?

A miniature update and a poem.

In therapy, every time I criticised, chastised or shamed myself, no matter which therapist, one way or another they asked the question… ‘Whose voice is that?’ and I’ve been unable to answer it. I know that they are implying it’s a voice from my past but I’ve been so resistant to admit it’s anything to do with my mother. I’ve always said that voice is mine. I haven’t wanted anything of hers inside me. I have wanted total blame because then I have some sort of feigned control… but really that control is all an illusion.

Over the past few months something huge has crumbled, like a defensive wall, a barrier… something that’s been up around me forever has broken down and I’m feeling things I’ve never felt before. And it is intensely painful and right there, unavoidably loud. I can’t put into words what’s being processed just now, the sessions are intense… yesterday’s session was mostly wordless and a little scary when I was right in the middle of it. Something big being felt and held by us both. I’m feeling very vulnerable just now, experiencing a lot of reliving a lot of emotional flashbacks… physical rememberings. I think a part of me is finally coming to terms with what happened to me and all the ways I was failed, neglected. The things I needed and had to live without somehow, and how that has impacted me. What my life is like and what I am like because of all the ways I was so badly let down and hurt.

I wrote the following a few months ago to help me process what was coming up for me then. The anger I’ve been feeling recently is a little more raw and unrefined but it helped to revisit this poem and remember the core of it all.

(It’s more like a spoken word poem but hopefully it works in the written form too.)

Whose voice is that?

Whose voice is that?
I hold my breath each time the question is repeated, lest I learn the truth.
Then one day, unannounced and uninvited, it came up my throat like acid.

Whose voice is that?
It is the voice of shame.
The shame that my mother fed me daily,
Wrapped in the guise of love.
And I swallowed her shame willingly and gratefully and claimed it as my own,
Because it was the only gift she readily gave me
In abundance.
And there was such a lack of anything else.
The hunger for anything from her was so powerful that had she withheld it, in fear of starvation, I would have begged her for the shame.

Whose voice is that?
It is the voice of the only thing that connects me to her,
This one directional tether of shame.
She is shameless because I am full of it.
To no longer believe that voice would be to abandon the only thing she gave me.
How do I let it go when it is a part of me?
It grew in my cells as I grew inside my mother’s resentful womb.
The shame coursed through her blood, from her hurting heart into mine.

She did not want me.

Who am I without that voice?
Implanted inside me like a weed.
Without it’s far reaching roots I’m an empty cavity.
And the emptiness echoes.
The self hate grows.
Like a black hole, it sucks everything into it’s vacuum.
The hungry space within me drew in the shame willingly.
Filling me up with words of hatred and disgust that multiplied.
Poison set in cement inside the hollow in my chest.
What would I be without it’s dense knowing?
The truth that I do not deserve love.
The truth that I am not worthy.

And at times, so violently thrust inside of me.
It dug into the very bones of me.
Woven through the fabric of me.
It can’t be extracted with the same force with which it first penetrated.
It has to be carefully teased out, unravelled. Unpicked.
One painful lie at a time.
The lie that I do not deserve love.
The lie that I am not worthy.
Like the staples from a scar, torn from the skin that has so desperately tried to heal around it.
Removing it will hurt.
It will gape and the exposed wound will be bruised and bleeding.

Whose voice is that?
It is the rejected voice of a wounded woman, who refused her role as mother.
All of the shame that seeped from her pores had to go somewhere.
Through the process of osmosis, my skin absorbed it.

Whose voice is this?
This is the voice of my inheritance.
Generations of reluctant mothers who could not or would not heal their own shame and instead forced it down the throats of their girls.

It’s been said that shame is the closest thing to death.
I’d argue it’s like being buried alive.
Or maybe burned alive.
Trapped in a casket of searing humiliation.
To be seen and known is to be set on fire
Like the women branded witches and burned with the second hand shame of those who tied the ropes, lit the tinder and watched the smoke rise.
How many of those women held their breaths?
How many screamed?

Shame is like being withheld the relief of death.
Screaming in silence.
It won’t let me go.

Whose voice is that?
That voice is mine.
And for as long as the voice of shame is inside me, there is no space for anything else to grow.
I could try to wrestle with the words and tear them out of me, force them into my own child.
The pain of that would surely kill me.
I could try to throw them back towards their rightful owner.
Like a boomerang, I fear they would return.
My only choice is to tease each morsel of shame out of it’s darkness and into the light.
Like worms pulled from the ground,
Each one resisting the cold air.

It didn’t start with her just like it didn’t start with me.
Why is it we fear the witches more than the monsters who burned them?
Who first planted the voice of shame?
I feel the weight of all the mothers before me who only knew how to purge themselves by putting their shame into those that came after them.
I hear them willing me to find a way to neutralise the heat of the burning voice and take back the power.

It will take intention.
And time.
Force will not silence it.
The shame cannot be hated into submission.
I have to love it into evaporation.
I will persist.
I have no choice.

Whose voice is that?
It is the voice of a ghost named Shame.
Traveled through generations,
Desperately seeking the one
Who is ready to perform shame exorcism.