Grief is the Antidote to Trauma

The remnants of my trauma (most of which used to be hidden so deep I couldn’t even feel it beneath the heavy ocean of numb that rested on top of it) has been actively bubbling under my skin for a few weeks now. It has intensified recently to the point of me experiencing heat fluctuations, twitching and convulsions during my sessions as the energy is surfacing and discharging. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and I’ve been unable to put these experiences into words. As Mark said the other day, ‘appreciate the wordless space, we could load a lot of words onto it which can be helpful but words are not experience. It’s not the story about what happened it is how the story touches us.’

I found this video tonight and my mind is blown. Thank you Gabor Mate… once again you are teaching me… broadening my mind and deepening my understanding. I mean this makes so much sense and I guess I knew it, but also I didn’t. GRIEF is the antidote to trauma! The video is only a few minutes long but the first 50 seconds blew my fucking mind… just watch the first 50 seconds if nothing else…

I have recently found myself contemplating the impact of Anna leaving. (She says as if this hasn’t been something she’s been contemplating for most of the year). It’s been nearly 10 months since I sat in a room with Anna and 7 months since she phoned me to let me know she was closing her practice and I would never be able to speak with her again. I don’t need to write here how much Anna leaving me ripped me apart. I wrote about my experience extensively through that whole period. The grief broke my heart wide open and I thought I wouldn’t survive the intensity of it all. I drove to her office more times than I care to admit and sat sobbing my heart out in the car, often feeling unable to leave the last place that connected us. And even in those moments of pure torturous grief where I felt like my body was being turned inside out, if I had to put a name to it, I would called it love. Grief is love turned inside out… it really is. In those early days when I would walk into the forest so I could cry in peace (as the lockdown rendered me permanently accompanied by my 3 housemates)… I cried outloud… to the point where people would hear me… and I would place my hand on my chest and feel that my crying was a way to love her. It was my only way to love her. It’s because of who she was to me that her absence was so devastating. Me grieving her fully, has been about me honoring all of the great work we did together and all of the work she and I wanted to do with each other. Grief is not only about what you have lost in the present moment, it’s about having to rewrite all that you hoped for. Your whole life changes in an instant.

Recently I’ve been talking to those close to me about how I’m sensing in to this new sense of gratitude and a slight shift in perspective of the whole thing. It’s not that it doesn’t hurt like hell, the waves still drown me from time to time (though less frequently than a few months ago)… they still blindside me and render me unable to function while their swelling tides. But what I am also aware of is that the road that this tidal wave has carried me onto is a road that will lead to deeper healing. This direction that I would never have taken, had she not left, has led me towards something I couldn’t have experienced without losing her. I would not wish the pain I felt on anyone, not even myself (and I have a pretty good track record of causing myself pain!)… but as the well worn saying goes, ‘what stands in the way becomes the way’… this grief became my work. And something miraculous happened… it opened up a portal to all the grief… the stuff I could never feel. The stuff I was numb to. I have access to it now and my god am I feeling it. Not just emotionally but somatically, viscerally, literally physically feeling the grief surge through me. It’s not sadness. It’s not depression. It’s grief. And the grief that I now have access to is slowly breaking away the calcified trauma. Like the ocean wears away at the cliff edge… I can feel it happening!

It’s all making so much sense now that I’ve watched that video. OF COURSE grief is the antidote to trauma. Linda was wrong! Joy may ease the impacts of trauma but it is not the antidote… grief is. As Gabor describes it. And yes you have to actively grieve. It’s a process that you have to live through, let it destroy parts of you… it knows what it’s doing and it is truly miraculous when left to do it’s thing. I’ve watched my own kids grieve their mini losses (and some pretty big losses as they’ve lost great grandparents and great aunts and uncles)… they grieve, therefore they don’t carry the trauma. And all of their little injustices, their playground upsets, their disappointments and their missattunements are all grieved in relationship and released – not stored as trauma in the body. And in therapy… it’s what we do to heal. We access the pain from childhood and we grieve. I mean, it’s way more complex than that but that’s the nuts and bolts of it all… grief. NO fucking wonder this enormous loss has felt in some ways like the most empowering thing that’s ever happened to me… like a catalyst for healing. It literally has been! In all of it’s agony, it has also been rejuvenating. Within the grief I have found myself.

Welcoming me back.

For the first time in 6 months I actually feel like myself. I feel grounded and alive and awake and like life can be smooth and easy. For the first time since Anna left, I feel truly hopeful. For the past few days, since Friday’s session, I have felt light, energised, capable and joyful. I have tidied the whole house… for the first time in 6 months. I have played with my kids. I’ve tasted my food. I’ve felt in my body. I’ve moved in my skin with more care and kindness. I’ve stretched and I’ve rested. I’ve planned a strategy to get me ready to return to work… not immediately but soon. It feels possible now.

Nothing monumental has changed and yet I do feel a change. ‘A seismic shift,’ as Mark reflected today… a shift in my internal landscape. One I am aware of.

Today’s session was very adult. We stayed with the ‘good’ feelings, we explored what it means to feel like this from the inside and we processed where I’ve been the past few weeks and the intensity of the last session and the powerful awareness I had of his presence and holding when I was very upset. We revisited Mark’s exclamation from Friday that my childhood was, ‘pretty fucking bad.’ We talked about the fallacy of ‘it wasn’t that bad’ and how that narrative has followed me around my whole life. We talked about the powerful impact validation has on me and how I can feel myself breaking free from the minimising lies surrounding what happened to me. We talked about the fact that my body tells the story… my struggles with coming into relationship tells the story. There is a wordless energy here that doesn’t need to be proved. I said, ‘Me constantly telling myself it wasn’t that bad… what is that? Denial? It’s probably a good thing to loosen my grip on that?’ Mark said, ‘Yes exactly, I think denial is really the only truly pathological defense because it stops you acknowledging what’s actually happening to you which is usually not a good idea for very long.’ There is a safety in seeing things for how they really are. You can’t protect yourself from things you deny the existence of.

I told Mark that I trust him and that it blows my mind. That I feel an ease with him and that I trust he won’t shame me. That there’s a trust in me… an ability to let go and feel things and cry with him and let him witness and be with me. I said, ‘For so long I didn’t think I would ever be able to cry in the company of someone else, or even by myself! It’s fucking huge that I can cry with you… massive! I’m actually excited about it. And I’ve realised it’s so much more painful to feel the feelings and not cry.’ We explored my history of self-harm and how short lived the relief would be when I would cut myself, compared to the real relief of crying with someone with me. I said, ‘There’s a new road, a new option… one that doesn’t carry the shame or guilt that self-harm harbours.’ Mark gently reflected on the ebb and flow of these connections I’m making, that the old habits often present themselves to us and that sometimes we will be aware of the other options, other times we won’t.

I told him, ‘I feel your authenticity. I think that helps with the trust… I don’t feel any games… I don’t feel like you’re having to ‘switch on’ your therapist mode for me, I feel like this is genuinely who you are, that it is threaded through you, the way you are being with me… in relationship with you I feel an ease that I’ve never felt, even with Anna.’ Mark said, ‘That’s good to hear, we’ve got to somewhere really important here. There is an ease. A trust. I imagine you’ve got a pretty good radar for when people have any agenda or are game playing. Your history will have given you the ability to read people. It’s delightful to hear that you feel your hyper-vigilance relaxing and a trust growing with me. And you know you can check things out with me, ask if you feel that something isn’t quite right.’ I said, ‘With other therapists, I would sense an effort sometimes, that they were having to work at it… I don’t feel that from you, I feel like you enjoy this work and that it’s not a huge effort for you to sit with me through this.’ Mark brightly replied, ‘Yeah, I think you have seen me quite clearly there, it’s important… I’m here with you… very here with you. It’s quite lovely, you’re very astute. It’s delightful that you can pick up on my enjoyment of working with you.’ This felt so nice to acknowledge. It made me smile.

We spent some time sharing the qualities we enjoy in each other and then Mark suddenly realised the time and said, ‘Oh, we’re coming up to time! I was so engaged in what you were saying I forgot to do my job!’ This also felt nice and he noted that he feels an authenticity from me and that the way I am makes it easy for him to be himself around me.

I told Mark to remind me of all of today’s reflections when I’m back in the pit of despair and he said, ‘that’s the beauty of life, we go round the loop repeatedly… and we learn as we go… what do you feel towards that part of you that will come back at some point…?’ and I searched inside and found two strong feelings. One was a desire to push that part away.. to ask her to never come back because it is too painful. The other feeling was of compassion for those dark and tortured places inside me. I marveled at these two feelings and then we said goodbye.

I’ve been aware of a slight sense that younger parts may have felt spoken about but not spoken with today. There’s a feeling of talking over the heads of the children. By listening back to the session I have reassured those parts that although the session didn’t feel as intensely intimate as Friday’s… we were still there, sitting together, talking and feeling together. And these thoughts and feelings will be welcome whenever I feel compelled to bring them to session.

I spent some time reflecting on all of this today. I’ve done some more tidying. I journaled a little. I filled the house with music and I did some online Christmas shopping. I am very aware that nothing is permanent. Just as the darkness passes in time, this light will also fade. So I am making the most of it while it’s here. Taking a breath. Holding this spacious ease with gratitude and bringing mindful awareness to things as they are.

I went to my husband for a cuddle in the kitchen yesterday afternoon and as I rested my head on his chest he said to me in a gentle voice, ‘you’re back…’ I smiled and asked what he meant. He told me that nearly 20 years of living with me has taught him that often I go away, slip into darkness and fog but I always come back and he was glad to have me back. I told this to Mark and he said, ‘how wonderful that he could see you and welcome you so warmly and how wonderful that you allowed him to share this with you.’

Leaving the Cave

The first time I let him see me cry… without asking him to look away.

I reached out to Mark via email just before the session…

Hi Mark, I just felt the need to let you know that I’ve been in the thick of massive waves of grief this morning and for hours last night. I was really triggered yday afternoon and it just spiralled to the point of total despair. I managed to hold it together until the kids went to school this morning and then I lost it again. I felt myself shutting down about half an hour ago and was freezing and very spacey so I’ve put my electric heat pad on and I’m starting to come back a bit but I still can’t feel anything in my body. I guess I just wanted to say all this before the session although I’m not really sure why I couldn’t just say it at the start. It’s going to be really important that I feel a connection with you today coz I’ve been completely alone with these massive, scary feelings and now there’s this numbness which is also horrible. I really hope I’m able to let you in a bit like I did on Monday coz that was really nice and I really need that a lot today. See you soon. L

…and he replied…

Ok – I’ve got you.
M

I felt so shut down as the session approached that I wanted to sleep. Just log on and sleep right there with him keeping me company. As soon as we connected on zoom Mark said, ‘Let’s take all the time we need to just arrive together.’ There was a pause and he continued, ‘I’m glad you let me know a little of what you’ve been struggling with this morning. I might need to come a little further forward for you to sort of feel me here with you.’ And he sort of moved forwards in his seat but also I felt a sort of energetic moving towards, like he knew I wasn’t going to be able to make the effort to reach out today so he was moving closer.

It took me some time to communicate anything at all. I told him I didn’t feel like I was really there and he encouraged me to be ‘as not here as you need to be, don’t push past that… there it is, the not here…’ and we just took some time to feel that. Then I guess I was able to look at him a little more as I started to sense in to the fact that he wasn’t forcing me, and he wondered aloud if I was able to be ‘a little bit here and a little bit not here’. And so we felt in to that too and I said I was starting to feel a warmth in my hands and feet that I hadn’t felt earlier. Like my body was slowly filling up with a life force again. The talking was slow and gentle and spaced apart with lots of time between words.

Eventually I said, ‘I hate feeling like this. It’s when I need to feel the most with you but I feel the most away from you. It’s been really hard.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah, I know. I absolutely got that. And that’s coming in with you and stopping you being fully here with me and stopping you from fully feeling me here with you. Which is maybe what you most need. How much of us making contact are you in touch with?’ I said, ‘the tiny bit I can feel is making me so sad, so I want to not feel it.’ Mark encouraged me to feel the edges of that contact and the edges of the sadness and I said it was because he was being kind to me. He said, ‘yes, it’s there, the sad part… the kindness brings up a range of emotions, I get it. It’s problematic for you because of your history. Kindness is not straight forward especially when you’re feeling like this.’ There was some more quiet and then he said , ‘I cant not feel kindness towards you because I really can feel that you’ve been going through it so I do feel that I want to reach out.’ I felt a disbelieving part turn away from this and indignantly questioned, ‘Why?’ Mark patiently said, ‘Why? Well It’s a heartfelt thing… there’s a pull to move forwards.’

At some point I tried to explain what had been going on for me. I talked about the grief that was coming up about Anna. I went right back to the previous day and reflected on the fact that there is something very triggering about hometime which makes me completely disengage. The energy and the smells that are noticed on a body level at the transition time of the kids coming home from school. I felt myself moving very deeply into this somatic memory. There were no words but my body was shaking and Mark encouraged me to notice with curiosity what my body was telling me about what it remembers from this time in the day.

I talked about what happened in the evening that layered on top this bodily felt sense of happenings from my childhood that are largely wordless. I told Mark that as we move in to a second lockdown here, although I never felt like I came out of the first one, there is a shift in the air and things are starting to feel restrictive, constricting and oppressing again, the powerlessness feels suffocating again. I told him that my husband had gone out to the studio to get one more session done with his band before the lockdown and so I put the kids to bed by myself which is unusual. As I lay on Reuben’s bedroom floor listening to him fall asleep I began moving in to a deep grief. I told Mark, ‘something about my face on the carpet, the darkness… and I was looking under his bed and I remembered, not in words but in a feeling.. I remembered… I could feel in my body… it was a feeling of a need to crawl under the bed and hide… and then along with that there was a realising that its not normal for kids to want to hide. That my kids don’t ever hide under the bed or anywhere and they’ve never ran away from me and I guess I just really felt it when I was lying there, powerfully felt what I used to feel and uh… that was a lot to feel… and then I had to supress it to get through him falling asleep and then get out of the bedroom and down stairs and then there was just so much sadness…’ Mark said, ‘yes you’re grieving for your past in a way.’ We talked about how my grief for Anna has reopened all the other wounds and that talking about her with him in the previous session opened that up. I told him that I reread my journal entries from our final sessions and the last phone call. ‘it was like walking through a door and the wave just hit me, so powerful, she’s really never coming back.’ I felt like I was struggling to articulate myself and I got into a cycle of self damning when Mark said, ‘You’re doing just great Lucy, I really want you to hear that, you’re doing great. You’re doing a good job with trying to help me connect with what you’ve been experiencing.’

I told Mark that I listened back to the last session many times and the bit where he said that I’m not back at the start really helped reassure me. Then I said, ‘and I do know I’m not back at the start of my whole journey, but I am back at the start of a new therapeutic relationship.’ Mark said, ‘Do you mean that it may feel better when I’ve sort of downloaded on my disk a lot more of your history and what you’ve been through so it doesn’t feel like the early bit of the work? You’re looking forward to us being on the other side of that? And it’s a process.’ I agreed and continued, ‘and losing Anna… having her alive but not in my life… well that’s just like my mum. I mean, she’s not…’ Mark made a noise and said, ‘yes… she’s not meaningfully in your life in a way that’s good for you.’ Then he apologised for finishing my sentence and there was a lot of space where I felt the emotions well up inside. He then said, ‘where’ve you gone?’ but I couldn’t speak I just started to cry. Eventually I said, ‘it feels punishing, it’s not fair, she’s sitting in her own house half an hour away, it hurts so much, it feels unnecessarily painful when she could make it go away… I don’t know… I’m getting annoyed with myself… I don’t think she meant to go away. The last session she said, ‘see you on Tuesday’… and we never did… and I read over all my notes, I didn’t record the sessions back then so I’d write them out immediately afterwards so I would remember them.’ Mark said, ‘yeah sure, makes sense. And a way of keeping her close as well as just remembering the sessions.’

Mark said, ‘lets take a little pause and maybe focus out the way and just connect with each other and see what happens.’ We were looking at each other and he had his hand on his chest. I ended up with my hands over my face and he asked me what I was aware of. I felt a small voice escape, ‘I want to be sitting with you I don’t like this I feel on my own.’ He said, ‘mmm yes. It is limited isn’t it. How it would feel, and it would feel different if we were sat together.’ That amazingly brought me back out of myself and I sat up, had a drink of water and continued talking about the grief. I said, ‘it feels like walking through a long corridor in a hospital or something and you’re walking quickly straight forwards and then bang through the double doors and through another corridor and then bang through some more doors and each corridor is a different state, different emotions and it changes so quickly, I told him that’s what my mind is like just now. The really intense grief and then bang it’s off, nothing, then it would happen again then nothing and I cant control it and it’s really big and scary in my whole body.’ I got frustrated again and said I couldn’t find the right words. Mark said, ‘I think I’m getting it, I’m getting the territory. Griefs a bit like that you can be floating along quite okay and then all of a sudden from nowhere this whoosh comes in and this wave of feeling that is hard to put into words just overtakes you and almost steels time almost as if you’re in this altered state and then you come out of that you come through the doors and you’re going along with life as normal and then through the doors and another bit hits you. That experience makes sense to me. And I also feel confident that, painful though it is, it is a good thing. You are touching on layers of grief and it’s moving through. It sort of rises and peaks and discharges. That strength of emotion is a bit woah, rollercoaster. So the scary feelings makes sense and they’re coming because they can and because you’ve got a big enough container almost to let that wave through you if you like.’ There was some silence and he asked where what he said landed with me. I said, ‘it’s a softness inside, gentle like a layer of something soothing over the panic… but those aren’t the right words…’ Mark said, ‘can you stay with that? Without words even?’ I quietly said yes and he said, ‘just welcome that in, it sounds like a good thing to feel. don’t pressurise yourself to put it into words just let yourself have that.’ Which I did for a while.

I told Mark that I’m realising on a deeper level how much I miss Anna. That I know I will be able to do deep work with him, there’s not the panic around that which I did feel with Linda. But there is this sense that you can’t just replace one therapist with another, ‘its not like you can just pull out a plug and push in a different plug hoping it’ll be the same it’s not the same and what I had with Anna was special between us and now that’s gone.’ I struggled to stay focused on that conversation and he said, ‘let me say a couple of things and you don’t have to make too much effort. What ive witnessed in you is that you’re acknowledging a little bit more how it is. You are mourning the loss of Anna a bit more deeply. And I always really love your metaphors they speak really well, you said it’s not like you can just unplug and put in a different plug of course it’s not the same. You do feel a confidence with me, you said you will get to do deep work with me… I think you already are actually, I think you are touching some very deep places right now. You’re touching the heart of your grief. We’re finding a way to speak about it which is hard because it’s more visceral than cognitive in a way and a making sense of it. And I would have a strong hunch that you are grieving for more than just Anna. And we’re just letting that move through.’ I sat looking to the side of the screen for ages and then he said, ‘and I’ll be with you, every step of the way with your grief, when we’re together.’

I have listened to that bit of the recording on repeat. There’s this settling of the anxiety that happens when I can hear that he really gets this. I said to him I like that he said he likes my metaphors and I started to try to tell him that Anna said that. I wanted to tell him that in our last phone call she told me she loved my analogies and to remember to use them with whoever I work with. I wanted to tell him that she told me that every time she uses an analogy she thinks of me and it makes her smile. But I couldn’t get any of that out and I felt myself being pulled out of my skin and float up above again.

I was able to eventually say that I was struggling to stay focused and I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t say it. I told him it felt like the doors were locked. He said, ‘There is no need to say any of it outloud. This is sensitive territory for you and notice what is happening inside as you’ve said the pieces you have said. And also there’s something that stops you saying any more. Just honouring that, you might feel annoyed with it but it’s trying to protect you in some way I’m sure of it.’ I felt more alive again and said, ‘It happened in the last session and I listened back closely to see if I could figure out what had freaked me out and made me go spacey… it’s the critical voice telling me that what I’m saying is stupid and you don’t understand what I’m saying and it drives me away and I go away and that happened again just now and it keeps happening coz this is really important and then it’s like I panic and think ‘if you share that and he doesn’t get it or he doesn’t say the right thing it’s gonna be really painful’ and then it makes me go and then I cant find the words anymore and then you talk and that brings me back down into my body again coz I can hear that you’re safe and you understand.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah, you know what you’re doing right now is you’re really skilfully clocking the process… and it’s not wrong… and it sounds like it’s going to keep happening between us and if you can just be curious about it rather than wish it were different. And to really notice those places that we go together when we go through that cycle. I think that will be really helpful, because it is something from the past and it is the way you’ve helped manage difficult experiences particularly of loss or that someone’s not gonna be there for you in relationship and your psyche has found ways of making that as bearable as it can.’ I was really quiet and eventually Mark asked, ‘can you hear that?’ and I said, ‘yeah’, he said, ‘does that makes sense?’ and I said, ‘yeah’, he said ,’good’ and then I said, ‘it makes me feel sad. I was thinking a lot of things. It does make a lot of sense. I’m so glad you get it. And it’s nice to hear you talking about being curious about it rather than being critical…’

I then said, ‘and I thought about how my kids don’t do that.’ And he interrupted and said, ‘they don’t need to do that,’ in a more firm voice than before as if he was really trying to make me hear it and I quickly switched and said, ‘I know but fucking hell how bad was it then for me to feel like I needed to do that?’ and in the same firm voice Mark said, ‘pretty fucking bad,’ and I said, ‘what the fuck?’ as if I was just learning this for the first time. I said, ‘I don’t think I knew… that’s awful then!’ and started to cry and Mark said, ‘it is awful, it was awful. Yes it was. It’s horrible that your psyche had to find all those clever ways of helping you through that.’ Through tears I said, ‘I don’t think I really fully got that.’ He said, ‘no you wouldn’t have done, course you wouldn’t have done. I mean, it would happen… I know you’re getting upset… it would have happened under your radar, it would have done it for you and you’re just clocking how it does it now between us and that’s really good because you’ll grow awareness of these places and something will come together over time. You won’t need to do that with me forever I’m sure of it. It will shift and you’ll have a trust that we’re here together and it’ll be okay. But given where you’ve come from and your history it makes perfect sense that you’ll go down that rabbit hole or round that loop or whatever metaphor speaks to it you know.’ I said, ‘it’s like these layers of realisation… you think that your life… that its normal, when you’re a kid that’s just the way it is. Then when I read all the books I learned cognitively, I gained awareness, the knowledge that all the stuff that happened was not a healthy environment for a child and but then I really feel like I’m feeling it and lying on his floor I really felt it as if for the first time. The fear that I had… all the time.’ I was crying a lot at this point. Sobbing in my hands. And it’s only on listening back that I realise I didn’t ask him to look away. Mark said, ‘Yes you touched that place because you were able to…’ I quietly spoke in a disjointed way through the crying, ‘…the carpet and the dark and it felt safer under the bed, what the fuck?’ Mark said, ‘yes it’s upsetting to know that’s how you felt back then and you can connect with that part of you. It’s desperately sad isn’t it for that child that felt safer under a bed rather than just sort of sat on it trusting that things will be okay, you didn’t have that trust… and your tears are very welcome by the way.’ I said, ‘and I was totally on my own.’ And he said, ‘you were, with feelings you shouldn’t be on your own with and you had nobody to trust to help you with those feelings so you were totally on your own which makes them hard to come into relationship now with, with me and you most needed it, it’s what you need, and it’s so good that you’re not on your own now and we’re able to thread through it together, you’re doing really good work and it’s fucking painful.’ I was audibly sobbing through him saying all of that and it felt intense and alive and powerful and unlike anything I’ve ever let myself experience and listening back to it I can feel the intensity again.

Eventually I calmed a bit and sorted myself out and told him I felt like a fucking mess and he said, ‘I sometimes think as human beings that we’re all messes in progress… but we tell ourselves we’ve got to have it all together, and that’s what we put out to the world… and you don’t have to here, you can just be however you are.’ I said this feels like a very messy time in my life and he said, ‘it is you’re feeling all sorts of things, its like your past is coming straight through, you lie on a carpet and up it comes and you clock it and it’s deeply wobbling to the core and its almost an opportunity to sort of reclaim that child that you were ,’ I told him I didn’t think I knew how to do that and he said, ‘you’re doing it you just don’t realise you’re doing it. Something being worked through here.’

We talked that through a bit more and I talked again about the triggers that brought these body felt emotional flashbacks to life. I talked about how the kids come home happy and they’re both fighting to tell me about their day that they both run up to hug me and they don’t question that there will be snacks there for them, that they don’t feel the need to be apologetic about asking for anything and it just feels like I’m noticing things on a painful, deep level. Mark said, ‘yeah they are how you should have been and it confronts you with how you were.’ I said, ‘yeah and it feels like I’m just learning this for the first time. Just how bad it really was.’

We were talking about this thing that I feel I’m going through and trying to put words to. I explained it as being like a shedding or an evolving, a relearning. Experiencing a new way of being that is painful and hard because change is painful and hard but that I know in the long run it will be for the greater good. I talked about having to walk over hot coals to get to where I want to be and then I said, ‘It reminds me of Platos allegory of the cave. I remember learning about it at uni and it’s come back to me a few times on this healing journey of mine…’ Mark said he knew it and I elaborated on how I felt it fit here. ‘So all the people were imprisoned facing the cave wall watching the shadows of life projected onto the wall thinking that the images they saw were the truth and all there was to life. Never experiencing these things for themselves, just trying to make sense of the limited things they were being shown… like me reading theories and stuff in books about healing from trauma… Eventually one of the prisoners broke free and turned around, he struggled away from his old life and the new one confused him. The sun blinded him. It was painful and hard and unpredictable and so full of things that seemed familiar but very different to what he thought was the truth. So I’m now feeling body memories and emotions and waves of grief and I’m crawling through the healing and it’s actual agony… I recognise the experience as being familiar from the pages of the books but living it is completely different.’ I said to Mark, ‘there’s this dilemma… well you can’t really ever go back to staring at the cave wall once you know the truth… but you have to adjust to this new way of being. There’s this painful breaking free and the sun is blinding me and my body hurts…’ Mark said, ‘notice – you turn (on my screen) that way…’ he pointed to my right, ‘freedom lies this way… notice that, notice where your body looks to.’ I made an agreeing sound and he said, ‘just notice that spot that your eyes go to and let yourself have that, just as an experience, a wordless experience.’ I did. I sat and felt in to the space I was leaning and looking. Imagining the fresh air outside the cave and all the possibilities. Then the pain of it all approached me again and I said, ‘there’s just so much heartache and grief and questioning I’m going to have to wade through to get there. It makes me want to turn back sometimes. I feel really kind of ‘in it’ at the moment and there isn’t really a ‘there’ anyway, because even when I get ‘there’ there’s still going to be all this living you know? Its not like some destination where everything’s gonna feel completely peaceful and fine.’

Plato’s Allegory of the cave

Mark said, ‘No, but you’re in a different relationship with your way of being. Its like you’re not so transfixed by the mirage at the back of the cave you’ve got a different perspective and that shifts everything. We can get hypnotised almost by our mental contents cant we and project them on to the back of the cave and it’s an appearance that doesn’t have substance to it. It just feels very real. And actually from another perspective it starts to be put in it’s place. And there’s this thing of kind of turning towards the light. And it was quite palpable where you went to with your body and where your eyes went to, just sort of saying that out loud to me and I just thought I’d bring that to your attention.’ I said, ‘one other thing… this is for another time… if you’re in relationship with someone who’s still sitting there staring at the wall of the cave, that’s really hard to function in a relationship when you feel like you’re breaking away and working really hard going towards something else, towards reality, and they are still sitting there, chained. But that’s maybe for another time.’ Mark said, ‘hmm… hmmm yes I hear you. I’ve got it.’ I told him that’s why the therapeutic relationship is so important to me. I just don’t have this level of emotional intimacy with anyone else, even my husband. Mark said, ‘yeah and sometimes that’s the way of it isn’t it. And you do have this space where you can go to places you cant go to with anybody else and feel things together and it’s okay you’ve got somewhere to put them. You’re not just holding them on your own which I feel is hugely important. Hugely important, especially for you because you were so alone. Finding your way in the dark on your own and that’s not right is it so you don’t want to reproduce that, so you have this space.’

I told Mark it surprises me every time I get the sense that he’s okay with me wanting and needing connection with him. That he’s not trying to force this independence onto me. I told him that I keep expecting him to think I’m too needy or clingy but each time I feel a need for him he seems happy I’ve reached out. He jokingly said he’s not into John Wayne therapy… there’s no sending me off into the sunset by myself. ‘We do have clingy, needy parts. We all do. I mean basically speaking from two energies… the polarities – we wanna go like that…’ (hugged his body) ‘…and we wanna go like that…’ (pushed away with both hands). I laughed and said that’s exactly what I want and he said, ‘yeah yeah, join to the human race, you know. Its how we all kind of react. We contract in, we expand out, we push away and we grab towards us. And actually what I think is more important is that we become intimate with those energies and intimate with those forces inside ourselves.’

After a couple of quiet minutes Mark said, ‘I know there are a lot of thoughts going round but my sense is that you’re a lot calmer now, is that right?’ I said it was. I said I felt more connected with myself and him. I told him that it still felt like all the words were in a different language in my head and I cant translate them and get them out my mouth but I did feel a calmness. He said, ‘notice that. Notice what tells you that inside.’ I told him I wasn’t deliberately being resistant and that I do eventually want to share things with him and he said, ‘I’m not reading it that way. Just to respond to that there’s plenty of space. Don’t give yourself a hard time for taking time with it. From my side, it really isn’t wasted time. That moment where I just asked you to check in with your calmness and you felt it. I think that’s important. You know, there’s no content in that is there, just a ‘oh yeah I’m feeling a bit different and I can feel that from my insides’ I mean nobody’s going to write a novel about it I mean we could try to put words to it but there is value in feeling it and noticing.’ I wholeheartedly agreed and told him how hard it is to put this work into words and he said, ‘yeah and if you could put the welcome mat out and appreciate that wordless space, you know your experience. Experience isn’t wordless, we could load a lot of words onto it which can be helpful but words aren’t experience. And what I’m helping you to do is touch your experience a bit more deeply and it’s not the story about what happened its how the story touches us. And it’s a deeper level of connecting. And I think you’re getting it.’

We wandered around the areas we touched on in this session and I reflected on how I was feeling throughout, the ebb and flow of connectedness and the ebb and flow of grief. At one point Mark said, ‘we will get through it together, the only way is through, you’re going through real experience, rather than an idea about it. And the grief unlocked that. It was a painful gift if I can put it that way. You can see that but it doesn’t make it easier.’ I said, ‘yeah it is a painful gift… like she is impacting my healing journey even after leaving.’ I started to say that I felt much more stable and could tell him what I wanted to say earlier about Anna and the analogies then immediately changed my mind and said, ‘oh actually I can feel that upset so I’ll not go there just now.’ And Mark laughed and marvelled at that, he said, ‘that’s great isn’t it, I love that. I love that… you were like ‘oh I feel okay now I’ll just say it’ and then ‘oh no actually that does feel painful maybe not’ and so you caught the edge of something. Isn’t that fabulous how you steered yourself.’ I was laughing and said it’s like I was about to burst through another set of double doors but instead I felt the door with the back of my hand and felt the heat of the fire on the other side so decided to back off, with only 5 minutes left of the session. Mark said he loved that metaphor and I said that was brand new, I’ve never done that before. Mark said, ‘There’s a choice there, a conscious choice that’s taking care of you. What’s it like to notice that new thing that does that, even without you having to think about it?’ I said I was really grateful because I used to retraumatise myself by oversharing and then the regret would eat me up between sessions. he said, ‘That’s really lovely to hear, good for you, you’ve learned a different way of doing yourself. Slower is faster, I’ve said that to you before. Being able to touch the door but yeah not for now, we’ll come away, we don’t want to get burnt.’ We laughed as he continued the analogy with the fire brigade and all sorts of unnecessary detail and then in the lull after the laughter died down I said, ‘I do really appreciate you doing this with me Mark.’ He said, ‘Yeah I appreciate doing it with you as well. It’s delightful to see the quality of how you’re engaging with yourself. You’ve got everything you need and the way you’re doing therapy I have no doubt that you’ll get to where you need to be. You’ll get somewhere good for you.’ I told him that felt nice and that I could feel the warmth of it in my chest. He said, ‘ahhh let yourself have that. Stretch that out for a minute, that nice thing.’ And then there was quiet. For a minute or so. And Mark said, ‘Were just resting together. No more work.’ In a gentle tone that you might speak to a child at bedtime. Settling them down for sleep. And I did feel calm. And connected.

This grief is a doorway

When I was very little we lived in a tiny white cottage tucked away beneath the hills. It was a beautiful little sanctuary. We were only there for two years. For those two years we were all genuinely happy. When we moved away, reluctantly, a little piece of me was left behind. Seven stayed. She couldn’t bear to leave.

During one very intense session, Anna and I went back there to that cottage and brought Seven ‘home’. But it doesn’t feel like we made it all the way and now Anna’s gone and it feels as though we are in some sort of black void waiting… we’ve not quite completed the journey. I want to take Seven back there and to bury myself in those hills.

I have cried for 3 hours on and off tonight. The grief has ripped through me as if it’s fresh and raw and brand new. I guess my system has fragmented this pain into a little box to dilute its intensity. It’s insanely painful tonight. This grief, it rips apart all the grief my body has ever felt. It tears at the old scars. It opens the wounds. Demands that I feel them.

This grief, it is the doorway to it all and it is demanding that I feel it. I read over my last few sessions and final phone call with Anna. God what I’d give to call her right now. I have a session with Mark tomorrow thankfully. Just got to get through the next few hours.

You’re standing on the shoulders of your previous work.

I came to Monday’s session with one intention and told Mark straight away that my only agenda was to be in my body, connected with myself and to feel a connection with him. That was it. I told him that after listening to and reflecting on my last few sessions I could hear that he has been gently encouraging me to go slowly and connect with him and I’ve been rushing. Mark said, ‘Okay, lets hold that as an intention and see where we go…’ he then asked me if I needed him to sort of disappear into the background a bit so that I could connect with myself more and I panicked and said, ‘I don’t think I can do this by myself, I don’t want you to disappear into the background.’ Quite firmly he said, ‘No, I’m not going to disappear, sorry, what I meant was, let your awareness of me drop away slightly. What happens when you draw attention to yourself and let me fall away a bit? It might not be the right way of doing it, you might need to connect with me first.’ I told him I definitely needed to connect with him. ‘I want to talk mindfully, in connection with you and myself.’

Mark slowed his voice down and gently suggested, ‘Let’s have a little pause then just now and see what it’s like to take a breath and feel yourself supported by what’s underneath you and just have a moment to settle. Together.’ I must have looked really unsettled because he asked inquisitively, ‘What comes forward as I say all that?’ and I told him I was really uncomfortable and he laughed in a kind way and said he sensed that. He asked if we could make a little bit of room for what’s uncomfortable to have a voice, ‘I’m wondering, can you speak from it? If the uncomfortable could talk what would it say?’ I said, ‘I want to hide.’ Mark repeated that back to me and I said it was a tight ball in my stomach, ‘a heavy ball and there’s tension all around it… it’s making me wish I could cover my whole self up so you can only see my eyes.’ I laughed and Mark suggested we get curious with that desire. He asked if I wanted to pull my duvet over me or something and I cringed. I talked about how hard it is to go deeply into the work when I’m sitting on my bed. ‘I think I’m actually just done with all this you know? This whole having therapy in my bedroom shit. I miss having a therapy room that I can go to deal with this stuff and then leave it all in the room.’ Mark said, ‘That makes so much sense, you’re certainly not alone in feeling that. Normally you have a safe and boundaried space for therapy and then your home is just your home. It is harder to manage and it can be harder to feel the connection, hold the space.’ I agreed and said it did feel less safe having my sessions in my home with the kids downstairs. Mark said, ‘Yes it is unboundaried in a sense, less safe, harder to separate from once the session is over and harder to bring yourself fully to the session because you are always conscious of your family life around you.’ We felt into that frustration a little and I tried to speak from the place of frustration which seemed to emanate from my throat and chest.

A little later I told Mark that I was feeling concerned that I hadn’t shared many memories with him yet. I told him that by this point with my previous therapists they already knew so much about me. On the one hand I was critical of myself for this. On the other hand, I’ve gone deeper into my emotions with him than with anyone else. Including Anna. Mark listened carefully and made his usual encouraging, empathic grunts every so often. I said, ‘I realised something last night that really upset me. The temptation is to overanalyse this and say that it’s a result of growing up with a narcissistic mother who didn’t see me, but there’s this part of me that feels like I don’t exist if I’m not known very deeply and very well by someone. And the thing I realised is that Anna knew me better than anyone, but she doesn’t know who I am now. If we were to meet again now, we wouldn’t align, she’d have to learn who I am now. I’ve changed so much since the last time she saw me in February. And you and I haven’t been working together long enough yet to have reached that deep knowing you get from years of this kind of work… it makes me sad… it’s a panicky feeling that no one knows me that well any more. No one knows me that intimately. I want to hurry up and get to the place where I’m known very well.’ There was a pause and I panicked and blurted out that when he is quiet I assume he thinks I’m an idiot and that he doesn’t get what I’m talking about. Mark said, ‘Yes, you convince yourself, in my pauses, that I think you’re stupid and whatever else. You give yourself a thumbs down… I want you to know that I don’t think that at all… in fact I think what you’re saying is very important. There’s something in you that longs to be deeply known. You want to be seen and known intimately. And there’s a part of you that wants to push that quickly. It’s a sort of, ‘I need to speed it up, get to that point of being very well known or else I’ll drop out the universe and no one will have known me’ or something?’ I was silent for a while and then I said, ‘Exactly that yeah, well I want to hurry up and get to the point where I’ve shared everything with you, all the things that I think will make you leave me. And you’re still here. I want to hurry up and get to that bit.’ Mark sounded more energised and said, ‘Ahhh yesss. So, let’s have a little play with that. Imagine we’ve got there. Imagine you’ve given me all the details, all the memories, all parts have shared, we’ve worked through and touched in to all parts of your life. I know it all and I’m still here and you’re still there and we’re still together and you feel known. What would that be like? Can you imagine?’ I started to get upset and said it feels too risky to imagine. ‘It would be great, but I don’t feel like I can trust it.’ Mark said, ‘Yes it feels risky, you got to a place of feeling known with Anna and then you were left. Alone. There’s a very real fear that could happen again… what happens inside as I say that?’ I said I could feel the panic in my chest getting bigger, the pain. He said, ‘Could we hold that painful panic together now? Maybe just for 30 seconds and then we can move away from it, just notice it, the panic and the pain, feel it there and notice any other sensations that are around it.’ It’s hard to articulate what happens in these moments when Mark is really encouraging me to sit with the feelings while being connected with him. It’s incredibly intense and unlike anything I’ve experienced in therapy before.

We talked a bit more about my reservations around sharing more of my history and I said, ‘I wonder if I’m angry that I have to go over all of this again… I’m frustrated to be back at the start.’ Mark said, ‘You’re not back at the start, you’re standing on the shoulders of your previous work. I might not know your biographical history, I haven’t read your memoirs, I’ve not got that piece… It will come forward in it’s own time and when it does it will be different because you’ve not said it to me. It will be a different process. I know you have this worry that you’re wasting time and you’re pressuring yourself, why haven’t I covered all this by now... it’s another way for you to make yourself wrong. Rather than trusting that something below the radar is organically doing what it needs to do in order to connect and speak from where you are.’ I liked that a lot and he asked me what inside tells me I like it. I said it calmed something inside me, it felt safe and soothing. We felt into the safe, comforting feeling in my chest, knowing that he was in no rush and that he understood my journey and my process. I asked him to say it again, ‘you’re not back at the start, you’re standing on the shoulders of your previous work.’ I liked that a lot. I said, ‘so maybe it’s not all been a waste of time then, maybe the work I did then was what I needed then and the work I need now is what I’m doing now?’ and we breathed in to that together.

Anna came up a few times conversationally and Mark asked me, with a curious tone, what it was like to talk about her. I told him it was nice to talk about her again, that it’s not often I talk about her these days but I think about her every day. He leaned forwards a little and said, ‘And what happens inside as we talk of her?’ I said it was upsetting and that I felt sad and he said, ‘Yeah… a sadness… yeah I can feel that, just go very gently with yourself, slowly.’ I told him a few of the things I miss about Anna and that it’s hard to be going through this grieving process mostly alone. He told me he knew it was deeply painful and hugely significant, that it is a real loss and he understands. I ended up reading some of mine and Anna’s final messages we sent to each other through the months leading up to our last session which really brought it alive. I remembered how much love I had and still have for her and how much love I felt from her. I explained to Mark that Anna worked hard to encourage me to acknowledge my young parts despite a huge amount of resistance and denial from me. I told him about the session where I finally admitted that I felt the youngest part, Four. That I hated her. Didn’t want her anywhere near me. I said, ‘I felt like she was dirty and gross and I felt ashamed for feeling like this about a child but Anna helped me through those feelings.’ I told him that Anna had said she wanted to scoop that little girl up and give her a big hug which was really powerful to hear. I said, ‘I told Anna that I could just about imagine her being kind to Four. I couldn’t do it myself but the closest I got to being nice to her was letting Anna do it.’

Mark had been making these, ‘mmm’ noises that seem to push these pain buttons in my chest, every time he does it it’s like pushing further in to the feelings. It’s a deep listening and deep empathy. He finally said, ‘Yes I understand, she was able to do what you couldn’t, that rejecting, shaming energy was quite strong in you. Which is hard to feel because you know it’s the last thing you’d want to do to a child but you’re sort of doing what was done to you aren’t you, that relationship that you’ve got inside… it replicates what was done to you when you were a small child.’ I was nodding and looking down and he said, ‘What happens when you hear me say that? Listen inside.’ I said, ‘um, I’m relieved that you get it and you don’t think it sounds silly. Also… I still feel that rejection part, I still feel the hating.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah and that’s okay. I know on some levels you’re saying it’s not okay but I’m glad you’re able to have that come forward.’ I talked more about the hatred I felt for Four and then said, ‘but then I started to get these images in my mind every so often, of Anna holding Four’s hand and it sort of made me feel reassured, connected me a bit more to the possibility of being less rejecting of that part of me.’ Mark made another pained noise and then said, ‘Would it be okay to let that image form now? You can say no, I would realise why, could you form the image of Anna holding her hand?’ there was a lot of silence then a small voice, ‘but she left, she’s gone.’ Mark said, ‘mmm yes, you had your hand held and then it was dropped and you were left alone. I know I’m knocking on something that carries so much pain. She offered something and it was withdrawn, it was taken away.’ I then leant in to talking about this feeling of Anna just playing the therapy game, that it’s all fake. It didn’t mean as much to her as it did to me. Mark listened and helped me feel in to that fear and sadness and the painful rejection.

Quite organically I ended up talking about Luna and how Anna encouraged me to connect to my child through drawing and soft toys and the time when I asked for Anna to bring her perfume in to a session and the very intense session I had when I cried inside my hoodie and Anna sat with me, next to me, her hand on me. That was our last session together. As I spoke of this I started to feel very floaty and Mark said, ‘Notice the floaty feelings. Maybe you could sort of connect with me a little bit as you notice the floating, could we come together? Can you find yourself here with me?’ I took a big breath and he gently said, ‘What’s happening inside?’ there was a big long silence and eventually I said very flatly, ‘I’m not inside. There’s nothing inside. There’s just spaceyness.’ He said, ‘Yes, you’re spacey, there’s more floatiness than insideness.’ Still pretty monotone I said, ‘I feel like I could burst into tears but there are no feelings inside.’ There was some quiet and then I said, ‘I want to share this stuff with you about Anna but…’ and he said, ‘it’s delicate and personal.’ I nodded. I said, ‘I was a fucking idiot to fall for her niceness, it’s over now and the exact same thing could happen to us and you’re encouraging me to connect back with you but that’s risky!’ he said, ‘yeah I get it, it’s really difficult because a part of you really wants to and longs for the connection but you did that before and look what happened. There’s a push pull around it. And that does make sense.’ I had a shaky voice when I said, ‘I’m scared that I’ll share this and get even the tiniest hint that you think that what me and Anna had was wrong or bad or weird.’ Mark said, ‘I’m not thinking that at all. I think it was what you needed and I’m deeply moved by your journey actually. You swam against the tide in yourself to reach something you knew you needed.’ I said, ‘yeah. I’m feeling more in myself now.’ Mark asked me, ‘whats that like? What tells you that?’ I held one hand over my face and one over my chest and said, ‘I just feel here again, you know? Not here.’ And waved a rainbow above my head. He said, ‘yeah, you’ve come down. There was a place up here that you went to protect something and now you’re down here.’ He mirrored my motions. Then he said, ‘What else do you notice as you notice being here?’ I said, ‘You are here with me! I can feel you here.’ He said, ‘Yeah, great, that sounds really good!’ and I told him the things in the room I was aware of. He said, ‘yeah I think you just moved through a whole wad of anxiety and fear, you went away because things went too painful or you felt threatened and you’ve let things settle and come back down into yourself… it’s one of the things that you said at the start you wanted to feel in yourself and connected with me.’ This felt really powerful and Mark said that. He said that talking about Anna and the work I did with her was alive and really strong. He pondered whether it would be a good idea to come away from that piece and save it for another time as I looked down at my phone to share some more texts. We talked about that and I said I wanted to share one more memory and he said, ‘Yeah, you want to complete something, that’s important… I guess my intention is to look after you while you do that.’ And this seriously felt like being held. It felt so safe and holding and lovely. And we felt into that warm, comforting feeling of being genuinely looked after.

I read to Mark the message that I sent Anna on International Woman’s Day and he said, ‘Wow. Gosh… yes… you let her know, you said all these important things, you expressed your deep gratitude and she received it.’ I said, ‘I do still feel all of that… it’s not a game. Whatever part of me said that, that’s not how I really feel… I’m glad I was able to have all of this before my work with her had to end.’ I talked to Mark about how grateful I was to feel him with me today and that it’s scary and horrible when I don’t feel him. I said it was nice to have the space to talk about Anna again and thanked him for helping me come back into my body. I told him it takes me some time to process the sessions and we talked about how that feels. That things are in transit, moving through my body. ‘An analogy I’ve used before, these sessions are like shaking up a snow globe… it’s painful and unnerving and unsettling but at least it’s alive.’ Mark said, ‘Yes. It is very much alive. Not resting at the bottom unnoticed. It feels very alive.’

What if I never find peace?

Something massive has been happening and I have had no idea how to articulate it. It felt as though everything was falling apart and now I’m wondering if that’s actually not as bad as it feels. Maybe actually it’s cracking open and therefore becoming more clear. Maybe this is where I get to really learn about myself. I have been journaling every day but every time I tried to write a blog worthy post it felt like an impossible task to put into word what was largely wordless. I have written four blog posts since the last one I posted on October 30th. My sessions have been intense and enlightening. We have talked about and moved through emotional states that delve into my relationship with work, my previous therapists and their boundaries and how they impacted me, my early adulthood and the loose bones of what led me to where I am today. The session I had on Monday this week was the deepest work I’ve ever done. And I honestly can’t quite believe it’s happening. It is absolutely agony and it is also absolutely necessary. Like resetting bones, I am in the process of breaking, in order to heal.

When I first listened back to the session there was a lot of shame around hearing the things I was saying, hearing the despondent sighs and hopeless breaths I was taking and the constant, unreassurable depression and despair that was pouring out of me. It felt toxic and embarrassing and the sort of thing a person would want to turn away from to protect themselves from being infected by it… maybe that’s why I asked Mark to look away… to have some sort of control over the leaving that he would inevitably feel compelled to do. I actually found myself laughing at how miserable I sounded. I found it hard to tolerate and so stopped listening. The critical voice was loud and unrelenting.

The following day I listened again and I heard myself panicking about wasting the session. Twenty minutes had passed, and I felt like time was slipping away. A common fear that every one of my therapists has picked up on and to be honest this anxious obsession with these precious minutes I’m wasting in therapy has only ever increased and intensified through time. It’s this powerful panicked feeling that the minutes of the session are ticking by and I am wasting them and then suddenly, somehow too quickly, they will be gone. I have a feeling it’s linked to something big like an existential awareness of my mortality. I’ve always thought that I don’t fear death, but I think in a way I do. I don’t think I fear actually dying but maybe I fear the end of life. More specifically I think what I fear is that I may die having never found peace. And the fear of wasting the session is a fear of running out of time before I’ve healed myself, whatever that would look like. Each session is like a micro version of my life… this stretch of time within which I have very little control over what comes up and a huge anxiety about it being over before I find relief. Before I’ve managed to fix everything. And this is also linked to the hopelessness and the recurring fantasies of ending my life. Perhaps to have some control. Maybe linked to the perfectionism… if I can’t fix everyone and everything and make myself a whole and perfect human being I might as well just end it all now.

Listening again I can hear myself lamenting, ‘I hate this version of me because it’s really difficult to get anywhere,’ Mark suggested, ‘how would it be not to try to get anywhere at the moment and just let this be what’s arising. And maybe we can learn a little bit from it. In a sense you’re feeling a whole way of being that you don’t want to be and it also carries shame in it so that me knowing how you are – you’re hit by being ashamed of not being able to move things on to get somewhere else, for feeling stuck, for wasting time.’ This really resonated deeply and I repeated some of it back to him that it really was how I felt. That I did feel stuck, that it was a familiar feeling, that I hate being back here again and again. I started feeling quite upset and said, ‘I don’t want to feel like this anymore,’ I tried to explain how even if the feeling goes away it always comes back, it follows me around. Then I felt flooded, told him it was excruciating and asked him to look away. Which he did.

I then quietly say, ‘I feel like I can’t be a decent person, a grown up, when I’m feeling like this, I can’t be a mum…’ and I start to cry. Mark asked if I felt a certain age, if it goes back to somewhere but I couldn’t talk. I did feel younger but I couldn’t express it. I just kept crying which is actually really hard to listen to. Mark encouraged me to let the tears come and eventually the crying passed and I said, ‘part of me wants you to look and part of me wants you to not look, I don’t know what the right thing to do is.’ Mark suggested we could do both and see how both feel. He said, ‘at the moment I’m not looking at you and notice how that is, I can’t see your expression or pick up visually how you’re feeling and in a sense you’re not being seen, literally, maybe metaphorically as well. Notice how that is for you and take some time with that. Maybe then feel into the part of you that wants me to look and you’re in control of this so kind of say when you want things to change.’ I told him that the part of me that doesn’t want him to look finds it easier to tell him how I feel when he’s not looking and he said, ‘okay, so is there anything that part wants to say now? Because I’m not looking.’ I then started to stress about what I could say and had all these busy thoughts of wanting to say something but struggling to figure out what it was. I told him there was a lot but I couldn’t get any of it out and he said it was an open invitation that I didn’t have to pick up, that it may feel complete just letting him know that some things are there but they can’t be spoken yet. He said, ‘make a note in yourself that for the moment there are things you can’t say. Just know that it’s okay to hold things back , they’re not ready just yet, you can’t get it out.’

I started to cry and said, ‘it’s really scary feeling like this, I don’t like feeling like this,’ Mark suggested we could hold the fear together and later asked what ‘this’ felt like and I said, ‘it feels hopeless, everyone would be better off without me, I can’t fix any of it, I can’t make any of this better,’ Mark reflected some of this back to me with a really gentle voice and said he could hear how my feelings of hopelessness had led to despair. He whispered, ‘just to let you know that I’m here for you and with you in your despair.’ I cried more and said, ‘everyone looks to me to know what to do and I don’t know what to do, I have to be in charge of everything in the house and I’m such a let down…’ Mark asked what would happen if I wasn’t in charge and I said it is already like that and it’s total chaos, everything is falling apart. I feel like I’ve been dropped into this life and I don’t belong here and I don’t know how to do anything. A little after this Mark asked if I knew what this place in me needs but it was interrupted because he quickly glanced up at me through his eyebrow and there was this very sweet split second moment of him realising that I was looking at him and had seen him sneaking a peek at me. It was really endearing and touching. I could see that he was dutifully looking away, and it had been quite a long time of looking away. And that probably more than once he flicked his eye up to check that I was okay. And that one time I saw him do it. He apologised for looking with a little giggle and said it was hard to not look. I felt so much gratitude for him and told him that.

As I am reflecting back on this whole little fifteen minute interaction I am struck by something I didn’t realise at the time. This was a flashback… an emotional flashback. One that had lasted all of Sunday and Monday and through my session. I had hidden this part of myself from Anna for nearly two years but actually I have experienced these debilitating flashbacks all my life. And it used to take up weeks and months of my life. In fact, when I was 18, 19, 20 I felt like this most of the time. For months on end. And initially I thought, when Mark asked if there was an age I felt, I thought Fourteen. But there’s something deeper there. It’s preverbal a lot of it. And I think actually this is developmental stuff, probably from when I was under 3 years old… and it left this gaping wound in my chest that was triggered in my teen years because of the trauma I was experiencing at that time. And I would often act on those unbearable feelings of hopelessness and despair as a teenager. To try to cope. So, when I feel like this it reminds me of the time when I was 14, 15, 16 and onwards. But actually these wounds go way back.

As I was really listening to myself talk in the session, I noticed that I don’t sound like my usual self. I sound quiet and young and frightened and confused and not as articulate as I am when in my adult. It’s still quite clearly me but I sound different. And the things I’m saying, ‘I can’t fix any of this’, ‘everyone is looking to me to look after them,’ ‘I don’t know how to be the mum’, ‘everything is chaos’… these aren’t truths about my life today. My life today is calm and settled and secure and stable. But they are very true statements about my life as a teen and definitely true of my life when I was younger. I was parentified all my life. I was responsible for the emotional stability and equilibrium of the whole family. And it was chaotic and unpredictable and scary and too much for me. I didn’t want to be the mum. Listening back to this it’s so clear… it’s like I have one of those plastic cup phones with a piece of string that stretches all the way back to 1997 and that kid is saying to me, ‘I’m scared, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do, I can’t cope, I’m in pain…’ and finally, I’M LISTENING.

Mark asked me what this place in me needs… she needs to be listened to. She needs to cry her ocean of tears. She needs to share all of the stories of pain and loss and longing. She needs to feel safe and cared for. She needs to know that she is all grown up and not living in chaos anymore. She needs to know she has support and that she is safe and that she doesn’t have to hold all of this by herself any more. That there is no shame in feeling the way she feels, that no child should be expected to carry what is weighing her down and that she won’t feel like this forever.

Immediately after my session this younger part of me wrote a letter to Mark that I will read to him on Friday (along with explaining the above realsiations to him). This is the letter…

I was stuck and frightened, but it was easier to be here when you weren’t looking at me. You asked me if there was anything else I wanted to say, behind the safety of you looking away. But I just sat in silence. Crying. Your patience was painful. If I could have spoken, I would have said this. I find it hard to talk, it’s like I lose all my words. I know there are words there, but I just can’t remember how to arrange them so that they make sense. It’s messy and confusing inside my head and my body feels on fire when you look at me. When I can’t speak or look at you and it’s quiet and you’re looking right at me, I don’t know what you’re thinking. Maybe you’re thinking I’m disgusting and you wish you didn’t have to endure this silent torture. That’s how I feel. But then when I ask you to you look away, and you do… so respectfully… I go cold and I’m alone. Unless I’m brave enough to look at you and then I can take all of you in for a split second. And I can imagine that I’m sitting next to you. But today you peeked at me and you caught me looking at you. (What made you look at me? And what did you feel when you saw that I was looking at you?) It took me two years to come out in session with Anna. Two years. We used to talk about me hiding behind my chair and then finally one day I came out. But it was too intense to have her looking at me. I’d ask her to look away as well. Then one day I asked her to sit beside me. And from then on, when I was out, she’d sit beside me, arms touching, so that I could feel she was close without her looking right into my soul.

Sometimes when you’re not looking and you’re not talking, it feels like I was right… I am alone. And I feel like I’m in control. I made you leave me, in a way. I wonder what you’re thinking about when we’re not talking and you’re not looking. I imagine you want the other Lucy back. The one who was talking on Friday. The one who’s interesting and makes sense. You say that a part of me feels made wrong for how I am and I just think ‘I am wrong though, I AM’. I don’t want you to sit and watch me while I cry. There’s something weirdly perverse and self-indulgent about that. No one has ever watched me cry before. I want you to look away so that I don’t see the disgust in your eyes. The disapproval or disdain. I don’t remember being looked at in any way other than with disgust. Maybe disappointment. I don’t remember anyone tolerating my big feelings. I’d crawl under my bed behind all the boxes, squeezed below the slats with my back against the cold skirting board. Or I would run down to the river and sit there until my bones turned cold. And I would know, deep in those bones that I really was totally alone.

When I feel like this, I want to crawl out of my skin and you’re encouraging me to stay in it just a little longer. You said this part of me is important. ‘It’s a familiar rabbit hole that you drop down’, you said, ‘and I don’t feel the need to escape it, I want it to speak… and for us to form a relationship with it.’ That made me smile spontaneously. Did that smile flash across my face? Did you see it?

Therapy holiday thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Addiction

Addiction is a trauma response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other People Feel This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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