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.

A letting go

(This will most likely be my last time writing about Anna. Unless something monumental happens. It no longer feels like a new chapter I’m on… more like a new book…)

Dear Anna,

I noticed you popping into my mind every so often today, softly reminding me of something I wasn’t wholly aware of yet. For years you were a constant presence in my mind, never far away. Now you are a familiar guest that pops in from time to time but never stays long. So strong was my urge to feel connected to you today, that I spent my lunch break looking back over our final emails to each other. Retracing the words I know by heart, imagining what you might have been thinking or feeling as you typed them to me, ‘I want to thank you for your email which touched my heart and I will treasure it forever. Your words mean so much to me. Please know that I also will never forget you. It has been a huge privilege to work with you and I have learned so much from you. Love Anna.’

There is still so much grief about the way things ended Anna, and anger too if I’m honest, but I’m not afraid of the size of it anymore, there is more space inside me now and I know how to go into it in a way I was never able before. Though there has been growth and change, I can’t romanticise the memory of you, as if the gratitude for what you gifted me could in any way erase the pain of losing you. There has been so much sadness and anger and grief, and yet in that suffering there has been opportunity to heal places I just could not access before. Like a lit match dropped on a petrol drenched land. Without the fire I felt nothing but the parched fragments of my childhood. What was already buried there, so desperately needed to burn… without the flames there could be no new growth.

You’re still such a powerful catalyst for positive change in my life. You were and still are the most positive female influence in my life and I love you still. Loving you was always the work. To let a woman be someone I could love and trust. To let you know me. To let you close. To even let you hold me like I’d never been held. These things were once unfathomable. I remember back to the days when I thought your kindness would kill me, what it actually did was plant seeds. Even if I could only ever let in the tiniest splinter of your love and kindness, it was enough to aggravate an ancient wound… just enough to bring it to the surface to be worked on.

I wonder if you’re even aware of the impact you had on me. Two and a half years is hardly anything really. And yet here you are still, inside me. I want you to know that I still think of you often, whenever I’m anywhere near Glasgow I wonder if we’ll bump into each other. I imagine sometimes that you’ll see me with the kids and you’ll smile, and I’ll smile. I think about what the past year and a half might have been like for you and I hope so much that you’ve been well. I can’t tell you how much I want that for you, that you be well and happy and safe.

There’s a part of me that longs to update you on everything, to tell you about all of the pools I’ve managed to plunge into after standing so tentatively on each diving board when I was with you, so afraid to jump in. I think you’d be proud of me, Anna. I’m proud of me. I thought about how there might be a part of you that wishes you could have witnessed each dive. Maybe you wish you’d accompanied me as I swam about in the waters I struggled to dip a toe into when I was working with you. But I want you to know that you have been there with me. It’s because of those patient moments of waiting and watching and listening, that I’ve since been able to leap.

Tonight, as I reflected on my day and the inexplicable pull back to our emails, our connection, it suddenly dawned on me, today is the 16th of September. Four years ago this afternoon, I walked into your office terrified, barely speaking. I couldn’t even drive myself to my own sessions back then, had to be driven. I felt barely alive. I barely felt anything at all.

Anna, I know that our time together is over. It’s been 16 months since we said goodbye through tears, a burning throat and an aching heart. I imagine you rarely think of me or your life as a therapist anymore. A distant memory maybe. When we said goodbye I pleaded you to reconsider, told you I’d wait however long it took. You gave your word that you’d contact me if you ever started your practice again, in response to my desperate begging. I couldn’t imagine at the time that anyone else could give me half of what I needed. I felt that you were my only hope of healing. But I’ve come to learn that the hope for healing is inside me. The work we did together gave me the strength to know what I need and to recognise when I’m not getting it. Because of that I was able to leave Linda and find my way to Mark. An incredible therapist, to whom I’ve committed myself wholeheartedly. He is exactly what I need right now. I know that if you were to get back in touch with me now, all I would ask for is a proper goodbye. And I would give anything for one last hug. You guided me on a part of my journey that I was on back then – that stretch of the road is gone now. I’m on a new path and it’s deeper and more complex than was ever possible before. But I could never have got here without you.

This is a letting go, of sorts. Though I’m learning that with all things to do with the heart, there is never just one door that opens and closes. The layers will peel and the grief resurface. But from where I am right now, this is a final goodbye.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Love Lucy 💙

Sometimes it is Necessary to Reteach a Thing it’s Loveliness

The past week has been insane. Long story short, the whole family has Covid and we’ve all been pretty ill with it. I’ve had a few scary nights with the coughing and up until this afternoon I’ve been thoroughly exhausted, feverish and aching all over. It’s day 7 for me. To add to that, my five year old son developed lymphangitis from a small cut he had on his hand and had to spend a few nights in hospital while he was treated with IV antibiotics. There aren’t the words to adequately express the worry and stress this week has held for me. Sleepless nights in the hospital lying on a fold out bed beside my son, watching his chest rise and fall. Both of us struggling with Covid. In fact it was Covid that compromised his immune system so much that his little body had to choose to fight the virus first and the tiny cut on his hand became infected and the red line rapidly crept up his arm to his lymph node under his armpit. The GP told me not to worry about it when I sent her a picture, effectively said I was overreacting… but when the mottling began to show on his forearm, I took him straight to a&e. The consultant told me it would have been a very different story had I not brought him up when I did. He looked me straight in the eyes and told me I did the right thing and should always trust my maternal instinct.

It was a very scary few days but we’re out the other side of that now and he seems on the mend, though still struggling with Covid symptoms. It makes me so angry to hear people say that kids aren’t affected by the virus… they are! Both of my healthy kids and many of their classmates have struggled with this virus. And both me and my husband have been double vaccinated, and this feels worse than the flu… I don’t want to imagine how ill we’d be without it, because this is hellish! I’ve been mainly existing on autopilot, being a mum and getting through things. There hasn’t been much time to be introspective or dwell on things. I’ve had too much real-time worry to contend with. And it’s been Mark’s third summer break… and to be honest I don’t think I’d have had space for therapy. It’s been the most present, most proactive ‘survival’ type week. There’s been this powerful thread of gratitude running through all of this. I am eternally grateful for the NHS. So grateful for the nurses who cared for us both when we were in hospital. Grateful for the hospital care we received. Grateful we were lucky enough to be born here, in a country that is not at war, I didn’t need to pass my baby over a wall to soldiers to keep him safe this week. Instead, we had free immediate access to high quality health care, friends dropping round home cooked meals, bags of food and fresh fruit and veg and medicine… honestly, so many thoughts and feelings about how lucky I am.

Tonight, has been the first night in a week that I haven’t been sitting with a very ill child and I felt the desire to write. It’s been a rare thing for me to be online over recent months. I’ve missed the connection with the few special people that I got to know online over the years but there has been this strong sense from deep inside me that I really needed to turn towards my ‘real life’ (for want of a better phrase). And ‘real life’ has been busy and full. I’ve taken on a new role at work that involves greater responsibility, more hours and a leadership element that feels really fulfilling. We’re planning the final stages of our new house build which is something that I seriously thought would never happen. My husband has been rehearsing with his band more frequently and I have watched them play live which was a total joy to see him so happy and in his element after so long without playing with other people. I have witnessed a softening inside myself towards my childhood and my parents. Many layers of grief and anger and sadness and regret have gently eroded to leave behind this quiet compassion and seeds of forgiveness. Now THAT is something I never thought possible.

This time last year was a turning point for me. I was coming to the end of 6 intense months of working with Linda in the aftermath of Anna leaving. In august 2020 I took an all-mighty dive into self-advocacy when I realised Linda was not going to be able to do the deeper trauma work with me. Her words, ‘I’ve had to hold a lot for you through this and maybe it’s been too much,’ echoing in my mind as I searched for a new therapist. One that could definitely hold what I have. I knew in my heart that I had to let go of what felt like the last link to Anna, in order to continue on my journey of healing in the direction that I needed to go. I knew in my soul what I really needed and I knew that it wasn’t Linda, nor was it Anna anymore either… it was always going to need to be something that brought me closer to myself… then along came Mark.

In just over a week, I will have been working with Mark for a year. We’ve had close to a hundred sessions and I’m sitting here now trying to find a way to describe the depth and value of the work we’ve done so far and the unfathomable healing that has taken place in such a small space of time. Losing Anna changed me enormously and working with Mark has changed me even more. It was all part of the healing. I can see that now. I have brought all of myself to Mark, uncensored. And he has welcomed it all as if it were the greatest thing he’s ever seen. Which has enabled me to do the same. One of the most profound and life-changing aspects of our work has been talking about, rejoicing and feeling into the ‘good stuff’ and really letting it be there between us. Often, we will turn our attention to the light energy inside me, the empowered, grateful, joyful… the calm and accepting, the love and the compassion. It’s all growing inside me because we tend to it. I spend less of my time in that painful place of inbetween… the fuzzy push pull of grief or anger or attachment, wrestling with resistance and protection and dissociation. It just isn’t there so much anymore because we spent so much time honouring all those terrifying places. They haven’t completely vanished, they never will… but they are far less frequent visitors. What tends to happen these days is I can go into the darkness, accompanied by Mark, without the fearful, shaming, critical pull of resistance. And from there we work on truly witnessing it all together, hand in hand holding the pain. This seems to allow for the joy to be there also. The victories can be celebrated without fear because the once intolerable pain is held and explored. With the repetition of a consistent caregiver, Mark has held me as I’ve fallen into the depths of despair and bore witness to my contraction, the need to close off and disconnect for safety, and not fought against it. And as he has stayed true and patient and ever present, it has allowed a tiny opening to grow, so that now, even when the terror rises, I appear more able to open into some sort of expansion. To let it be here, whatever ‘it’ is. To stay with him and stay with the feelings. All at once. To feel the fear and the faith. To feel the grief and the joy… in one body.

I’m now at a place where I feel I’m able to give companionship and support to myself. And if I sense a need for company or co-regulation, I don’t seem to have the same fear or resistance around asking for help. Unconditional love and limitless possibility… that’s what it feels like inside. Mark told me a poem recently and the following lines he holds in his heart and believes to be true… ‘sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness’… he said that’s all he ever does… just reteach, re-show, hold a mirror to all that is in there already. And that’s exactly what it has felt like. It doesn’t feel like he is the good one and I’m the bad anymore… it feels like he can see clearly whereas sometimes I struggle to see, but always we are equal and always the truth is that there is loveliness even if I am momentarily blind to it. And more often now I am able to see with more clarity, that it is there in us all and in me.

In the last weekend of the summer holidays, I watched my kids practicing some pretty impressive new skills at a climbing centre and it made me think… our journeys include it all – the triumphs, the falls, the scraped knees and the second, third, fourth go. And as my son cheered his sister on when she was able to do a trickier part of the course that he isn’t tall enough for yet, I thought about how important it is to let ourselves be the highest and fullest version we can be, without fear of the falls that may come. And to let others celebrate and surpass too. I have said it more times than I can remember but healing is not linear and actually part of the healing is the fall and the climb, on repeat. Just being where you are in that moment and witnessing and celebrating others for where they are.

I think this is the most stable, settled and secure I’ve ever felt as an adult and it’s been slowly, steadily growing for the past year.. or maybe it’s all been leading up to this, from my first session back in February 2013. I have this deep knowledge inside myself that I’m okay and that I will be okay. And when I say what I’ve just said, I don’t mean I’m happy all the time… far from it. I have moments of grief, moments of sadness, stress (soooo much stress and worry this week), anxiety and the sharp spiky triggers are still all there. But there is something different now about how I contain it all… I think that’s it, my container has grown. I can hold it all now. I remember being in despair saying to Anna, ‘it’s all bigger than me, it’s too much, I can’t cope with it all.’ That’s the difference. It’s not bigger than me anymore. And it kind of blows my mind that I’m in this place… where the stuff that used to floor me, feels manageable. I am so so grateful for that.

So grateful for all the people and moments that show us the loveliness that has always been here all along.

Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell

The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;  

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;  

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch  

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow  

began remembering all down her thick length,  

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,  

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine  

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering  

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Sunset on Summer Solstice

(Posting the day after because I had no signal last night).

My session was exactly what I needed it to be. Connecting, grounding and containing. we sat with the fear and doubts. We noticed the growing excitement and hope.

I left Mark’s office and drove straight up into the highlands. I could feel the anxiety melt away with each mile.

I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve leaned into this solitude. Perhaps I do quite like my own company after all. There’s this body felt sense of remembering that I do know myself and I’m safe inside myself. I feel calm and I keep catching myself smiling. I think a lot of healing has gone on under the surface and because ‘family life’ is still my biggest trigger, I never get to feel into the growth when I’m around my family. This time by myself feels solid and real and grounded.

Tonight I drove out of the valley to a point where I could watch the sun setting. It was breathtaking. On my way back, I stopped the car in the middle of the forest and listened to the birds and rustling life enveloped by the trees and although it sounds like a cliche, I really did feel at one with it all. The scent of the forest has to be one of my favourite smells. It smells as life giving as it is.

Around 11pm I took a walk, at dusk, to post this and then head home to get some rest but I couldn’t get enough signal so I waited until today.

Another beautiful sunny day… feeling so much gratitude for the stillness inside.

Summer Solstice 2021 sunset

In person sessions and solitary holidays

Since our first in person session, Mark and I have worked at feeling present with each other in both forms of therapy… it was like a violent disruption to the calm rhythm we’d created together, the first in person meeting. And it’s taken time to process and work through that. Working towards a new rhythm. One that swings from one side to the other. In the room therapy on a Monday, zoom therapy on a Friday. It has felt like pendulating between two energies. Connection and disconnection. Trust and defence. Self-consciousness and openness. Comfortable and tentative. Familiar and new. Contraction and expansion. Talking in detail about our experiences with each, slowly letting the experiences become more conscious. From the beginning, Mark found it a delight to be working in person with me, while the initial meeting for me was disregulating and triggered a huge array of confusing feelings. That misalignment needed time to work through.

Last Monday during our fifth in person session, in the last 15 minutes, I finally managed to move my body to the floor… where I’ve wanted to be since our first meeting but was always too frozen to move. I talked a lot about moving but could never move a muscle. Instead of forcing the movement, we spent a lot of time consciously tightening the muscles that were holding tension, following the desire to hide more. Hiding. Tightening. Turning away. Gripping the seat. Folding my arms. Hide. Push away. Shut out. Build the wall. Close my eyes. Say no. Say it louder. Shout ‘stop looking at me’. Letting the protective parts do what they felt the need to do. Then all of a sudden, on Monday, I said ‘I’m going to sit over there, stop looking at me while I move’ and he did, and I moved. It felt good. On the floor, leaning against one of Mark’s beautiful bright red floor cushions, I asked him to join me, and so he pulled a meditation pillow over and sat in front of me. We played with distance and it felt connecting and relaxed and lovely. He told me he really enjoyed having me in his space and that however I want to be, I would always be welcome. We talked about babies and toddlers and proximity and the need for space and the need for closeness and the need to be seen and the need to feel safe. The behaviours present in secure children and the behaviours present when a child does not feel connected.

As has been the pattern recently, the session on Friday was a breaking down of how it feels to sit in the room with him, we tend to process together, we take a few steps forward and then psychologically retrace those steps and feel in to what comes up or root down into any kickback I experienced post session.

I’ve been struggling massively with being seen by him and at the same time wanting to be physically as close as I can be. I often ask him to stop looking at me but I crave sitting closer to him. I talked about how I witnessed my babies play, how they experimented with proximity, how they knew in their bodies what felt safe. I questioned what life must have been like when I was just months old. Who held me? For how long was I left alone? Was I held but not safe? Did they ever see me and see something they could love? How could I have grown so fearful of being seen?

We’ve had a similar conversation before but I think I was able to take it in a little bit more this time. I told Mark that I wished I could be as comfortable with him in the room as I am on the screen… I told him I think I’m getting there but it still feels so overwhelming. I asked him what he noticed about in person compared to zoom.

He said, ‘I see more of your soul when we’re working in person… and it’s beautiful. Your living, breathing personhood, your energy breathing into the room. We can learn to dance with the intensity and feel it, which we do already when we’re together… and that way you can learn to grow your capacity to feel the intensity of being deeply seen and witnessed by me. As I see more of you and you begin to tolerate and maybe even grow to love that closeness. We can stand in solidarity with the need to contract when it feels too much and we can roll out the red carpet for all that unfolds as you expand into new spaces. And I’m right here, taking you in and supporting all parts of you, no one left behind, you’re not alone in this.’

I can hardly bear it. It sounds beautiful but I rolled my eyes half way through his poetic speech and he laughed and told me he knew it was a risk to he so honest… ‘but you did ask me about my experience of sitting with you and this is it,’ he said. I can hardly tolerate being in the room, but I do feel reassured by his words… when I let them touch me.

He reminds me that we found safety through zoom sessions and we’ll slowly find safety in the room.

I’m actually looking forward to being in the room with him tomorrow. I want to really feel his calming, connected presence. On Friday I told him that Thursday mornings are always torture for me because usually it’s when I’m on my own for the first time all week and despite wishing to have time by myself all week, when it finally comes it’s intolerable and I’m flooded. Rather than reminding me of my list of ‘tools’ like my first therapist did or ask me what I might need in that moment like Anna would say. Mark said, ‘it’s so useful for me to know that Thursdays are hard for you. I hate the thought of you being alone with those intolerable feelings, flooded but them. That’s a repeat of what life was like for you when you were very young and we want to undo those patterns not repeat them. So I’m really glad you told me and now I know, Thursdays are not always easy for you.’ It reminded me that he isn’t afraid of my need for closeness. He isn’t overwhelmed by my distress. He wants to support me in my suffering. Any time I’ve reached out to him asking for help, if he’s been free and able to, he’s helped me. And I’m reminded that if I feel the need for support again, I can ask him for it.

I’m doing something I’ve never done before this coming week. After my session I’m driving a few hours into the highlands by myself and I’m staying in a cottage, intentionally seeking solitude. I’ve never spent time truly by myself and I believe that if something so ‘normal’ and ‘every day’ like being by myself scares me this much, then it’s something I desperately need to do. So… I’ve written my list, packed my hiking boots, got my drawing pencils, sketch pad, journal and a couple of psych-books and I’m all set.

My trip is sandwiched between two sessions… thank goodness! I think I’m gonna need it.

See you on the other side!

I got to borrow you for a moment in time

Dear Anna,

I saw her… your daughter. The girl I refused to even imagine into existence for years. I used to tell myself you didn’t have children, but you do… you have a girl and I found her today quite by chance.

There she was, smiling down the lens. Happy and beautiful and full of energy and personality. She has tattoos and piercings and it made me think of the time you teased me about mine.

She’s ten years younger than me. Remember that time I asked you if you were old enough to be my mum and you said ‘if I’d had you when I was quite young, yes’. That was the session you told me you wanted to scoop Four up in your arms and give her a big hug. You were her mum in that moment.

Your daughter… I can see you love her with all your heart. As I look at her face, I see you in her… and I actually feel love for her. She’s your child and that is such a beautiful thing! She calls you Mum. She gets to laugh with you, eat food you’ve made, sit and watch tv with you, say goodnight to you. She gets to be held by you. She knows you as her mum and I can tell from the things she’s shared, that she values the work you did enormously.

I think she’d be so proud of you if she knew what you did for me. That you shared a bit of that maternal love with me. You had it overflowing in abundance and you let it pour into me. It filled me up at points and other times it smashed into my wall but you never stopped giving it to me, right up until you could no longer be there for me.

Thank you for your generosity. Your authenticity. Your kindness.

Anna… your daughters dog’s name is Luna… that blows my mind! 🐼 do you ever think of me when you call her name?

You looked so proud at her graduation. Just a few months after you met me. I see you being the mum that I hope to be and I see you being more for your daughter than you received. I see you breaking the chains that you helped me begin to dismantle. I remember how embracing and enthusiastic you were when I talked about my brother coming out to me when we were practically kids. And now I see your daughter with her girlfriend I know why it touched you so deeply.

I thought this would kill me, seeing you have a daughter, but I actually feel relieved. You’re alive and you’re not alone. I only want love and health and happiness for you.

The thing that I was certain would hurt me the most, has actually been the very thing that’s enabled me to let you go.

Anna, she shared screen shots of your what’s app messages, you guys have such a laugh together. It’s funny to see you talking in text speak. You were different with me. Thank you for being what I needed when I needed it. I see now why you cancelled those sessions at the end of 2019. She was ill and needed you. Thank you for being there for her and then withstanding my upset and anger at the fact that you couldn’t be there for me.

Now I have seen her, I can place you where you belong – with her. I feel more able to loosen the grip, I got to borrow you for a moment in time.

And now, good bye 💙

The long and winding road… back to each other.

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.

First in-person session…

On Monday this week I had my first in person session with Mark and it was massively triggering, though I didn’t realise it at the time. We talked about his new plants and the commute and my day at work and we briefly touched on the past year and how crazy life has been and how ‘great’ it is to finally meet in person. I repeatedly said things like, ‘this is so weird’ and ‘I can’t believe you’re actually in the room with me,’ but other than that, it was the least in-depth session I’ve ever had with him… by a mile. On the drive home I could feel my whole body tingling and I was noticing the familiar city buildings around me as if seeing them for the first time and I suddenly realised I was coming back into my body. For the whole session I had been numb and dissociated. I began to realise how disconnected, cold and impersonal it felt and there was this huge grief… like I had lost him as well as Anna. I couldn’t get the adult rational part of my brain on board who clearly knows that this was inevitable and of course we would just have a light ‘hello’ style session in the beginning. I was distraught. Seeing Mark in person, after 60 video sessions filled with deep and powerfully connecting work, felt open and exposing and abandoning to the young parts of me. They felt as though I’d betrayed them, shared their personal secrets over the past 8 months and then thrust them into his room with no protective walls… no wonder they/I escaped through the power of dissociation. It was the weirdest experience. Small differences felt enormous to the younger parts of me. The slight difference in the tone of his voice compared to the ever so slightly more tinny tone on the zoom calls, the more three dimensional experience of sitting in a room with him and seeing his whole body rather than just his head and shoulders, the fact that he could see my body, the air in the room, everything… a part of me was noticing everything. I was super hyper-vigilant – looking at every detail in his room. And at the same time I was noticing nothing.

After the session my thoughts and feelings spiraled through the rest of the day to the point of sending an uncharacteristically unedited block of text in an email to Mark that evening telling him that I was scared that we would never find our way back to each other, that it didn’t even feel like it was him in the room with me, that I’m sure he doesn’t want to keep working with me and that everything feels different. I sent two more distressed emails yesterday morning and freaked out for most of the day. I told Mark that I felt far away from him, that he was too quiet and distant in the session. His room is truly beautiful but it’s just so powerfully ‘him’ and there was something so painfully confronting about that. I felt so ‘on the outside’ of it all. Separate from him and his life, separate from him and his group of clients-who-worked-in-person-with-him-pre-pandemic… isolated and ostracised from everything.

Through the day, I spoke to a friend and I spoke to my brother. Both massively helpful conversations! (Even the fact that I can reach out to people now is such a big difference to what I used to be like… as Mark said recently ‘the repression is lifting’… I no longer keep everything under lock and key, hidden from everyone… these days I talk pretty openly with a few trusted people about these very personal, vulnerable places in me which is so liberating and such a relief).

Thanks to these conversations I was reminded of a number of reasons why this first in-person session would inevitably trigger big feelings. For a start, today is the one year anniversary from the day Anna phoned me to tell me she was closing her practice. Today, a year ago, I heard Anna’s voice for the last time. That’s obviously bringing some feelings up! Then there’s the fact that I haven’t driven into the city since losing Anna… the anniversary of losing her and the body memories of that journey being so closely linked to her was bound to bring stuff up. Also, it’s a big change going from only meeting him on a screen in my livingroom to suddenly being in person in his office – the young parts would understandably be confused and scared shitless and feel overexposed… hence the dissociation. AAANNNNDDDD Mark’s office is in the exact same building that my very first therapist used to work from 8 years ago. I haven’t been back there since he left me in 2015… there’s a whole load of unprocessed grief wrapped up in that one too! And lastly, as I realised late yesterday afternoon, visiting Mark’s office in the city took me right back to the time when my dad left and I visited his new flat in the city… where there was nothing familiar to me, where I felt like we didn’t know each other anymore and that he’d be glad if I never came back.

I sent this revelation in a brief forth email to Mark. I also told him that I like that I can clearly see his face up close on the laptop, that I feel safer and more connected to him on video and that I don’t want it to be that way forever but that’s the truth of things right now.

Mark replied not long after my final email with, ‘well done you, Lucy… I will be there to help you through this on Friday.’ annnnd breathe.

Interestingly when I listened back to the recording initially I found it triggering again because it was still so unclear to me why I felt how I felt but listening back a second time I can hear lots of little points of connection, many moments where Mark reached towards me. I can hear me touching on a topic I haven’t delved into yet that will need to be worked on… that I haven’t yet processed the way my life was turned upside down by the pandemic because I was too busy trying to survive the loss of Anna… I can hear Mark saying what a joy it is to meet me in person… none of that went in when I was there in front of him! I’m actually looking forward to teasing all this out with him on Friday, which thankfully will be a video session.

What a crazy ride this is!

It’s all part of the journey.

It’s been over a month! Hello to those of you who can still see me! The past 5 and a bit weeks have been full. I noticed the absence of my social media apps every second of the first week or so and had to consciously undo my habits (I swiped looking for the wee pink square almost unconsciously multiple times every hour). But at some point, that impulse to log in and swipe subsided and I settled into a different way of being. It took intention to step out of the addictive behaviour and because of that there is huge resistance inside when I think about ‘coming back’ but there is also a pull to be back. I love the connections I make here, I just need to be watchful that it doesn’t become habitual again to the detriment of my relationships on my side of the screen. So, I’m going to listen closely and see what comes up for me as I post and interact again. If you’re still here, thank you! I’ve thought of my insta-friends often through this break wondering how everyone is doing. Anniversaries always bring up a lot and the sporadic bits of warm sun we’ve had here have reminded me on a visceral body felt level what it was like this time last year. If I could send a note back to the Lucy of May 2020 I would tell her, ‘You get through this, in just a year you will have had the vaccine, there will be routines in place that help you feel safer, you will lose people you love and you’ll survive the pain of it. You will have an amazing therapist and your husband will have finally started his therapy journey! You will not hear from Anna again and it will hurt but you’ll ride those waves. Keep letting the grief tear you apart… it’s all part of your journey.’

Next week, I will drive in to the city to have my first in person session in 15 months… FIFTEEN MONTHS of zoom sessions. The prospect of meeting Mark in person has thrown up many different feelings. Most of them good… I know this will intensify and deepen our work even further. There are aspects of the somatic work he does that are near impossible to do remotely. I can’t wait for us to use the physical space of the room and to feel his presence with me. To literally feel the touch rather than just playing it out through the screen. It’s been interesting to reflect on this with him, Mark said in our last session that he forgets we have only ever worked through zoom as he often feels he’s in the room with me and I share this sense of presence and togetherness. There has been so much preparation for the ‘in the room’ work, I feel totally ready for it on many levels. And yet, I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we’re in the same room. When Mark initially told me we could meet soon, I felt a flush of past hurts. The shame of being physically seen beyond the nicely controlled little window I allow him to see. And this old pain… the frightening, recurring sense of being the new kid at school again… I told Mark it feels like he has his group of long term clients that are all metaphorically sitting in the classroom, strong, familiar and united as a group… they’ve already met him in person and know what they’re doing. I am standing in the doorway, new and alone, alien. I asked Mark what he felt about it and he said, ‘You don’t feel new to me, I feel like I know you really well, as if we’ve been meeting for a long long time. And getting to know you has been a joy, you are so committed to this work and we’ve worked hard together to consistently meet the parts of you that need tender care and attention, this connection is strong because of a lot of hard earned relational work.’

Exactly a year after Anna phoned me to tell me she was closing her practice, I will be sitting in a room with my ‘new’ therapist for the first time… and I can hardly believe I’m going to say the next bit but here goes… I wouldn’t change any of it! Honestly! And if you followed me through 2020 you’ll know that Anna leaving me nearly killed me. It stripped me of everything I thought I was and broke something deep inside me. But now, one year on, still carrying the grief, still crying my heart out frequently about how much I miss her, I can stand and look back down the road I’ve travelled and see that there is growth there that just could not have happened if I’d stayed with her. I needed something catastrophic to happen to break the ground I was standing on, to open my heart up to all of the pain and loss and love and gratitude. To feel any of it, I had to feel all of it. It’s not been a beautiful transition, it’s left me battered and bruised. It’s a cliche but the butterfly metaphor really does fit here, there were dark, uncertain, terrifying times where I did not recognise myself and had no idea what was ahead of me. Times when I have never felt so alone and yet, because of the support I had on here, and a couple of beautifully compassionate friends and Linda and Mark, I also felt so supported. And in some way, I even felt supported by Anna… by the foundations we built together. She had to drop my hand and leave me to journey the rest of the way without her, but that didn’t undo all of the work we’d already done together… if anything it illustrated just how much work we had managed to do.

At the time of the initial loss, Linda said I could have chosen to close my heart around the pain and to harden and shut down but instead I chose to let it rip me open and to feel the full force of it all. I didn’t see it as a conscious choice at the time, it just happened to me. It was a flurry of sheer panic and shock, medication and heart wrenching howls, suicide plans and dissociation, returning to old coping mechanisms, shame and regret, hopelessness, anger and despair, running away and sleeping for hours through the day and obsessive thoughts about her coming back and so much pain… but I can see it has all been the key to my healing. I spent my whole life shutting down and shutting out the world to protect myself. I’m so grateful I’m now in the position where I can care for myself and ask for help and let that help in. And losing Anna, who I still love dearly and who will always be the single most positively influential female in my life, led me to Mark… and he is doing work with me I could never have done with Anna. When I was with Anna, she was perfect for me, I miss her so much and the work we did was profound and lifechanging AND there were limitations on both sides of the therapeutic relationship. I couldn’t imagine anything better than Anna when I was with her AND I am now working with someone who is better. There really is no need to compare them, other than to say that I thought I couldn’t ever find a therapist as amazing for me as Anna was, and the unbelievable happened… I wish I could go back and tell my past selves that there is hope for positive change, it’s coming!

I told Mark that I always felt like too much but I don’t feel too much for him! That maybe it’s because he’s such a good therapist and likes a challenge. He said, ‘I don’t experience you as a challenge!’ Which made me laugh and do the ‘mind blown’ motion above my head. He said, ‘Lucy, you’re not hard work… you’re transparent, you take risks, you come up against the hard edges of yourself, you’re so loyal to seeing this process through… why the fuck would a therapist not love that?’ I reflected on the ways I’d got the message from various people (including my previous therapists) that I was too much. Mark very diplomatically suggested that a therapists own limitations and counter-transference can interfere with a clients journey and that he works at being aware when that happens to him. I told him how grateful I am that he knows his own process enough that he’s able to not let it get in the way of mine. And that he is open to hearing from me when I feel like that’s happening. I’m also aware that I am a different person to the girl who walked into Anna’s office in 2017. I am more open, less afraid, more willing to take risks, more aware of the depths I can endure. I wish I could tell Anna… but I trust she knows on some level.

A couple of sessions ago I was crying from a very young place. A voice coming out of me that had never been heard, even by me… ‘I just want my mum.’ The inner critic was absent from the internal dialogue and after this vulnerable declaration, I reflected on the young voice saying, ‘God that’s just so sad, isn’t it?’ Still crying, hiding behind a cushion because I still feel shame when I cry. Mark agreed with me, ‘It’s heart breaking… it’s such a healthy move towards, you want your mum, of course you do, but that cry has never been heard. You asked for an extra session and you asked for me to move closer, you showed that you want me, you want support and love… and now we can give that little part of you what she needs. You spent your whole life supressing that natural movement towards because you knew you wouldn’t get what you needed… you just want your mum… and we’re here now, hearing that little girls distress… she just wants her mum, a mum who never came.’ So much grief came to the surface in that session that I’d never been able to access before.

There is a natural flow to the process of our sessions now. After this very deep session where the young parts of me had their voices heard and their cries comforted came a session of integration. A more adult space where we talked about what happened and how it felt to all parts of me. In these sessions we make sure the young parts don’t feel ignored while I tell him what worked and what didn’t in the deeper session. I tell him how the young parts of me were able to take him in or what they needed more or less of. I can sense into the places in me that feel rejected or missed and I’m able to voice those misalignments near enough as they happen which enables him to bend and move and grow towards what I need. It’s often painful, awkward, embarrassing and scary… but taking the leap always pays off. No matter what I’ve brought to him… even the transference and agony I’ve felt about the things I’ve found out about his personal life from online stalking… he’s taken it all as being part of the work and as I said to him yesterday, I feel safe with him. I know he won’t shame me. I know I’m not too much for him. I know he won’t deliberately leave me. This is all brand new for me. I’m witnessing myself doing things differently in a way I was unable before. And I am so so so grateful.