A journey to meet myself

When I was a kid I spent some birthday money on a Beatles medley cassette tape released by Take That. I think it was the early 90’s. Maybe the b side of the Everything Changes single. It was a bizarre mix of Beatles songs that didn’t quite fit together but felt familiar and confusing to experience all uncomfortably mashes together. That’s what my last session with Anna felt like. Too many things that were only loosely related to each other, briefly touched on – just enough to be recognisable, enough to trigger something then moved to one side as we pushed on to something else…. and then something else… I guess I appeared to be coping fairly well and my affect was quite ‘chirpy’ so Anna probably assumed I was okay with the pace. Though she did keep checking in with me which suggests she may have been aware that we were waking on thin ice. She also kept reminding me of all the ways I can contain myself ‘when’ other parts kick back as I journey away from her office at the end of the night. I couldn’t see it happening when I was sitting in front of her… I was wrong.

This post is going to appear disjointed because that’s what the session was like.

We talked about how I’d felt the telephone session had gone. We were both pleased with now connecting it felt and how useful I’d found it. Despite reservations about how effective a session could be when it’s not face to face. Somehow Anna related this back to ‘my journey’ in therapy. I told her I didn’t want to be reminded of what I was like when she first met me. She asked me why and I said I was ashamed. She said, ‘ashamed of your therapy journey?’ and I said, ‘no, ashamed of who I was back then, what I was like.’ She encouraged me to have compassion for that frightened woman who came to that first session, so shrouded in shame and yet brave enough to go to therapy. So used to hiding yet willing to try out being seen… slowly. She said she was proud of me for that. Proud that I have stuck at it, ‘I know all too well how hard it is to keep coming back, keep digging deeper.’ I said, ‘those early days of being seen by you were excruciating,’ She reminded me of sessions where I would hide, curled in a ball or with my head inside my top. Snapping at her to look away, begging her to not look at me. It doesn’t feel like I’m completely past that yet, I think that’s why I don’t want to be reminded.

Back at the start, it was as if her eyes were flames and my skin already had 3rd degree burns all over… it felt literally agonising for her to pierce me with her gaze. Shedding some of the shame has been like peeling hardened, brittle strips of my burned skin off to reveal new, sensitive, fresh skin underneath. The journey has been largely trial and error. Though Anna calls it ‘working on intuition’. Sometimes we pulled too hard and it would bleed. Sometimes we took off too much all at once and I would feel cold and exposed and unprotected. But when we got it right, it would hurt yet it felt almost bearable. The new skin that was revealed can grow tolerant of the exposure and a little bit at a time is able to withstand more.

But there is an ache that lingers. A dull, gnawing ache from all the pulling and bleeding, ripping and exposing. I guess that’s why there is still shame. It’s still so much a part of me. I know that I no longer want to be trapped by the taut, stiff shame that bound me and held me captive for all these years. I am realising that the risk of pain is worth it, if it means I can be free… but it’s going to take a very long time to be freed of it all – if of course that’s even possible… the shame kept me safe all my life.

I’m seeing a common theme of this session. The tone we spoke in… it wasn’t literal, clear. It was abstract, metaphoric… we both used analogies a lot. Anna said at one point, ‘I think your child is near…’ and I think one of the ways she can tell is that I start talking in pictures, my sentences start with, ‘it is like….’ or ‘if it was a drawing it would be….’ the more abstract, the younger the parts. Sometimes the describing can be as stripped back as just stating colours. ‘If it were a colour, what colour would the feeling be?’

We suddenly burst into another topic. I’ve never said ‘complex childhood trauma’ before to Anna. But in the session I told her about something I’d seen on Instagram that described how there is no pre-trauma identity when you’ve experienced c-PTSD. You can’t mourn what you used to be like before the trauma. There has never been a life free from the abuse, neglect, pain, fear. It was intense just saying the words to her and she repeated them back to me with total sincerity like she agrees with me. I expected her to say, ‘but Lucy you’ve not been diagnosed with c-PTSD. You didn’t experience trauma…’ but she didn’t say those things. She sat with me in the words, as I was outside the emotional circle (already quite dissociated though unaware) and she, not dissociated at all, feeling the reality of the words… sat with it. I know, but I also don’t know. There was trauma but also I don’t want there to have been.

Another topic change. She asked me why I decided to become a teacher and that took me on the very long version of the story which I’ll not go into just now. It started with me describing the broken teenager who was effectively kicked out of her house. I said I felt like when I finally left at 17 I didn’t know who I was or what the world was. I wasn’t anyone and the world had nothing to offer me. I didn’t have any hobbies, likes, dislikes. I could fill a hundred pages writing about my mother. But not me. I was not a person. I was an extension of her and without her what was I? Anna asked if I felt like a blank piece of paper, like a blank canvas and I very quickly said, ‘NO…. that’s what you’re meant to be, no, my canvas had black scribbles and scrawls all over it. She poured her black paint all over my canvas. It was destroyed. Covered by her.’ Anna asked me what I wanted to do to the canvas and I said, ‘stab it and slash it and burn it. Totally fucking destroy it.’ She silently watched me as I angrily spat out the words. Then I became softer and almost cried, ‘but then there’s nothing left of me. What am I without all of the blackness?’

I started to really struggle at this point and was repeatedly saying, ‘there aren’t the words, I feel like such an idiot. I just don’t know how to say what I want. I don’t know what to say.’ Anna gently told me this was probably preverbal stuff and at this point we could gently explore things without trying to form coherent sentence. There could be sensations, colours, any awareness. But she never directly asked me these questions and so this just lingered for a while like smoke from a just blown out candle. Then it vanished.

At one point we switched to talking about the weight loss journey I’ve been on which has kind of mirrored my therapy journey. It’s been something I never talked about before, but I’m learning to talk more.

One of the biggest things I carry shame about is my body, my weight, how big I got. Even when I wasn’t ‘fat’ my mother would say I was. I wasn’t given loving, accepting vocabulary to define and describe myself. ‘No one will ever love you’….

For the past couple of years, with Anna’s consistent support and gentle encouragement, I’ve been focusing very closely on being healthier. Healthier mind (ie therapy) and healthier body (ie mindful eating, introducing fun activity, gifting my body treatments like massage therapies). A lot has changed. I’ve lost a lot of weight and lost a considerable amount of the shame and ‘issues’ that brought me to therapy. Anna asked me how it feels. I told her I feel lighter in so many ways. She asked if I’ve been enjoying the fitness classes I’ve been going to and I told her, with some surprise, that I’ve been loving it. I’m proud of myself for being active when sometimes it’s the last thing I want to do and I never had any activities that I regularly took part in through my childhood. This is all new to me. I told Anna that the classes are helping me appreciate what my body can do. I feel more ‘in’ my body these days and when I’m moving wildly, quickly, deliberately, I feel like I’ve been poured into my empty shell of a body and I am suddenly very aware of all these sensations I used to numb. Pumping heart, heat, sweat, tightening muscles, stretching ligaments, rotating joints, rushing air, presence. It is so freeing. She said, ‘you’re curious about what you can do, what you might like. That’s a really great place to be…’ I said, ‘also, being in the space with other women, a group of people I feared so much for so long, feels liberating and unifying… like maybe they’re not so threatening after all.’

I told her that although my shame makes me not want to talk about all the places I’ve been and where I’ve taken my body, what I’ve done to my body… this journey is not the shameful thing. How long I delayed the journey – I feel shame about that. But these new and initially terrifying experiences that I’m exposing myself to. The exercise classes, going for runs with my friend, playing active games with my kids, wearing sports clothes. The curiosity I have about finding what my likes and dislikes are as she described it… I told Anna. ‘I feel like I’m waking up!’ She said she could feel that too. That it’s Like the budding of a flower. A new relationship forming. She said I am meeting myself.

Then we moved on again to two or three other topics and at one point I said, ‘I need to write a list. Life is overwhelming at the moment…. I don’t know where to start!’ I started rattling off all the things that were on my mind as if to transferencially allow her to experience my overwhelm. She nodded and calmly suggested ways I can record all of what I need to look at and reassured me we will look at them all.

Then I left her office and fell apart. Cried all the way home. Cried a lot of the next day in between dissociative periods. I’ve been fairly okay today because I’ve been busy/distracted and it’s two more sleeps until I see her again. I have A LOT I want to bring to her on Saturday!

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*DISCLAIMER – please know that I never use derogatory language to describe myself or anyone now and fully embrace body positivity – I don’t believe we should feel pressure to lose weight in order to be happy or fit in. This is not about idealised standards or a belief that you can only be happy or lovable if you’re ‘not fat’, it’s about breaking down the reasons why I never looked after myself, why I ate my feelings… this is my personal journey and not a judgement on anyone else’s choices.

Strengthening the Adult

Our Emergency Phone Session

After my post 90 minute session meltdown I text Anna asking for a phone session, expecting her to gently refuse… however she agreed and we arranged the call. I have no privacy at home with two young kids and a small house so just before 6pm I got in my car in the dark wearing four woolly jumpers and a scarf to keep warm, drove somewhere quiet and parked up under the night sky and almost full moon.

The phone rang and I answered. She immediately asked how I was doing and I thanked her for agreeing to the phone session. My hypervigilance kicked in and I asked her if she was annoyed that I’d asked for the call. She said she wasn’t annoyed but she was curious about why I had changed my mind because the last time we talked I seemed happy enough that we would have a little weeks break. I laughed and so did she and I started to explain. In a very anxious roundabout way I said, ‘I think the session on Saturday had a big impact on me and I’ve really struggled with the feelings it brought up and I was just so sad and crying all the time and… uh… god now it just sounds so pathetic I can’t even explain properly, it feels like an overreaction asking for this session coz I’m still fucking here so I survived!’ Anna said, ‘it sounds like the session brought a lot up for you and what I would encourage you to do is have compassion rather than belittling your experience, do you have a sense of what it was that felt so overwhelming, what you were crying about?’ I said, ‘it felt so young… the crying…’ Anna replied, ‘hmmm… what age were you?’ It always makes my heart skip a beat when she asks that, I don’t know if it’s because it makes me feel really seen which makes that part of me panic a bit… I said, ‘you know how we were talking about when we moved house and you’d said about it being like my childhood ending then and well… seven… I was seven. I felt seven.’ Anna said, ‘you were seven, and what was the crying about?’ I said, ‘it all just felt suddenly so real, that I really felt like I lost my childhood then, it was awful I felt like I was going mad Anna, like I couldn’t think straight, proper sobbing from the pit of me.’ She said, ‘it can feel like we’re going mad when we tap into these pains that we have never allowed ourselves to feel before, and as much as it feels like torture I want you to know this is really a very good thing that you’re feeling it now, this shows a lot of progress, it’s a massive grief and grief comes in waves as we all know.’ There was a pause and then she continued, ‘What would you say to someone if they just lost somebody close to them and they were crying?’ I said, ‘I’d be with them and I’d let them cry.’ She said, ‘why?’ and I said, ‘because they obviously need to feel the feelings and express them and it’s important to let it all out.’ She said, ‘are you listening to yourself?’ I said, ‘yes and I’m smiling… I hear what I’m saying!’ I continued, ‘but I’m just so used to invalidating myself, it feels like – what’s wrong with you, this was so long ago and it’s really not that big a deal – this psychological grieving, it’s harder to validate and empathise than if someone has died, then it’s understandable that someone would be pouring their heart out…’ Anna said, ‘the example I gave was of loss, someone losing someone, not necessarily death, you lost that little girl… it is a real loss and a real grief.’

I said, ‘but it’s so hard coz I can hear myself talking about this and I just think what must Anna be thinking, she must think this is ridiculous, like *eye roll* when you see a text from me, don’t you think this is nothing compared to what some people have to go through! She replied saying, ‘I know that it’s important to you what I think, but what’s important is that we don’t compare ourselves to other people and that you tune in to what you think and feel, I don’t say this lightly, you know I’m in my own therapy and so I know how hard this is and that naturally we care very much about what our therapists think of us but it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and not invalidate them…. What is important is what you think, not what I think.’ There was a bit of a pause (possibly a big sigh from me) then she said, ‘what’s coming up for you now?’ I said, ‘well you didn’t answer my question, that’s like a classic politician response… so I’m still left thinking…’ she talked over me and said, ‘you want to know if I think you were overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing?’ I said, ‘yeah’ and she said, ‘I believe what you’re telling me, Lucy. I felt it all in the session, that you’d left that part of yourself when you had to leave your home and it was a huge grief for you. A real loss there. That small child, boxed up and kept hidden, forgotten, left behind and then you had to create a new Lucy who learned how to cope with her new life and all of the things you had to bear that you should never have been exposed to. She had to be created to help you cope with it all. You opened the door to that wounded 7 year old girl in your mind and it fucking hurts like hell coz you’re grieving losing her. I was there on Saturday, witnessing, I saw her and I was grieving her with you. It’s such an honour that you’re allowing me to share this experience with you, Lucy. I am so so proud of you because this is bloody hard work and you are doing the work.’ Silence. ‘Does that help?’ She said. I was silently tearful and just about managed a, ‘mmuhu’. I then took a breath and thanked her and said that made me feel much better about it all. I said, ‘there’s always a worry that you’re going to feel overwhelmed by me and there will be this one thing that pushes you over the edge and you’ll be gone but talking to you now I can hear that you are secure and you will keep yourself safe and that this is boundaried and you wouldn’t have accepted this session if you felt burdened and it is paid for and contracted and I’m not asking too much… am I , is that right?’ She said, ‘yes that’s right, sometimes I won’t be able to speak to you exactly when you want and we will arrange for another time, I could have arranged something else this evening but I hadn’t so I’m glad I was able to speak with you… and no, it’s not too much.’

I said, ‘the last time I took time off work when I was feeling like this you said something about how it’s not ideal for me to take time off work every time I feel like this and although you meant it in a supportive way, I felt bad about it, you know?’ She said, ‘did you take yesterday off work?’ and I said, ‘I’ve been off this week yeah…’ Again she talked about working out ways that we can ensure that I will be able to contain what comes up for me so I don’t need to take time off. She said I have responsibilities, at the very least I need to work so that I can pay for therapy (we both laughed) and yes people rely on my… she said, ‘you can’t let the child run the roost!’ She gave analogies about work and about home, that I can let the kids have a mad ten minutes going mental but then I need to reign it in again and be in charge. She asked how I was receiving this, how did I feel and I said, ‘I hear you and it makes sense to me but it feels shamey and like I’m being told off. Like you’re saying it’s bad that I took time off work.’

I said, ‘but I don’t want you to change how we’re doing things, I don’t want you to take that away from me, I don’t regret what I shared with you I’m glad I shared all that… but you know two things came up that I’ve never talked about before and it was two big things you know but I needed to talk about it and I don’t want to not talk about things now.’ She said, ‘it’s just the way therapy works though isn’t it, you never know what’s going to come up.’ I said, ‘but it was good and needed to be shared and I feel like you’re going to say we shouldn’t have gone that deeply into stuff and that makes me not want to tell you when I’ve been affected by it coz it feels like a punishment and I’ve only just started sharing and only just started feeling and I don’t want you to tell me to stop and…’ she interrupted my frantic ranting with a slightly firmer voice (but still with a kind edge) and said, ‘well Lucy, now I am going to tell you off. That’s not what I said. That’s what it feels like and you’re panicking about how you’ve interpreted what I said but I’m not asking you to stop sharing with me and I am not asking you to stop feeling. It’s important that you hear exactly what I’m saying here… you have not been in touch with these feelings for so long, your whole life really, ever in fact, and it feels overwhelming now because the door is open and it’s right there taking you by surprise when you least expect it, so it’s important when we are together that we work TOGETHER on making sure that you are aware of the skills you already have to contain this. I’m not suggesting that you should stop feeling, but rather it’s about that strengthened adult part talking to your inner child in that very calm and caring way that you talk to your own children and saying ‘I know this feels absolutely shit, I know you want to cry all day and stay in bed, it feels like the world is ending… I am here for you now and I’m not going to abandon you, we have to go to work today but we can take ten minutes just now…’ then you cry your eyes out, feel it all, let her tell you everything she’s feeling, then take a big deep breath, you wash your face and reapply your make up and then you get yourself to work. You say to your inner child, ‘I’m here for you, I understand you want to hide under the covers all day’ – and maybe you need to go upstairs in that moment and punch the fuck out your pillows or scream and sob into them… but then you continue, you say ‘we will be able to do something soothing at the end of the day…’ and then you leave for work. You switch your mind to work. It’s not about avoiding the feelings, it’s about not letting them consume you in that moment. You’re not ignoring or supressing, you are saying ‘not now, later’ and then your child will learn to trust that you will come back to it. And if it feels too much to deal with then you remind yourself that you can bring it to me and we can tackle it together.’ She asked me how all this sounded, did it still feel punishing? I said it was good to hear, that it felt more understanding and doable and like we were in this together and she was helping me remember that I can do this.

I suddenly had a realisation and said, ‘oh my god this is a re-enactment. This is proper 7 year old me possessing my body. After we’d moved, I hated school so much I didn’t fit in and I was so sad… fuck I had forgotten this – I wouldn’t even really have to try very hard but I’d beg mum to let me stay home and she’d let me. She’d let me lay on the sofa with the cover all day… it felt like love, I had one on one time with her… I don’t even think she sat with me but it felt better being at home with her… staying home… this tummy pain is what I’d feel… shit!’ Anna said, ‘okay that’s good so you’ve noticed it’s a re-enactment, it’s body memories… emotional flashbacks… your child is communicating this with you. And where-as your mum wasn’t a strong adult in your life, she let the child rule in that moment which is actually quite frightening for a child and it felt like love to you but that complete lack of boundaries and structure is not actually the most loving thing you could do for a child. What would you do if it was your kids?’ I talked through what I would do, that I’d build my kids up emotionally, I’d know it was because they didn’t like school and I’d open that dialogue, I’d let them cry, we’d hug it out, I’d fill them with affirming words and tell them I believe in them then I’d send them to school with the promise of hot chocolate and cuddles when we get home. Anna reassured me that this would be a great thing to do, that it reinforces that they have inner strength and resilience, that I believe in their ability to contain how they’re feeling until it’s time to come home and let it all out. She said, ‘and I believe in your ability to contain this and look after yourself. I know you have the strength to hold this and you have the patience and compassion to meet the needs of your child parts.’

At one point I think I was a bit quiet, although there were far less quite moments than when we’re in the room together because I was hyper aware that she couldn’t see me and I didn’t want to freak her out by going silent. She broke the mini silence and said, ‘I’m really proud of you, you know. I know this is really hard for you Lucy. I really do understand how hard this is. You’re working really hard and you’re doing so well, I want you to know that. Think about where you were two years ago when we first started working together, you have made so many changes. It’s honestly been such a privilege to watch you grow on your journey.’ I said, ‘thank you’ and she said, ‘you’re welcome!’ I said, ‘but really though, really thank you… I don’t know if you know how much of a big deal all of this is. I’ve literally never, ever felt safe enough to talk about this stuff with anyone, never trusted that I could, and now I am with you, and I just… thank you so much for being patient and helping me through all this and for believing in me and sticking around.’ Anna said, ‘I know how much this means to you, I’m honoured that you trust me with it all.’ I said, ‘I really do.’

I noticed we had about 25 minutes left so I went further in to my experience of the ‘kickback’. I said, ‘Two big things came up in the session, the 7 stuff and the 16/17 stuff… the suicide stuff…’ Anna made a sort of kind listening noise and I continued, ‘And I definitely don’t regret talking about it because it felt right and I felt way less self-conscious than I’ve felt before and I did want to share that stuff with you…’ She said, ‘yeah I have noticed that you’re far less self-conscious these days, the shame isn’t overwhelming you as much,’ I agreed and said, ‘remember the drawing I showed you of that corridor in my mind, with all the doors… so two of the doors got opened on Saturday and it’s hard, overwhelming to try to deal with it all. Coz now 7 and 17 are kicking about, flooding me with their feelings and memories and thoughts… so I feel small and helpless and lost and left behind and desperately empty and also rageful and suicidal and self-destructive and…’ She interjected, ‘How about we let the children know that for the time being we’re going to close those doors over.’ In that instant I felt a bit panicky and somehow she sensed my panic in that millisecond and said, ‘We’re not locking the doors. We’re not throwing away the key. The doors are just gently closed over and we’re saying that for now they’re to stay in their rooms so that adult Lucy can get on with life until we see Anna again then we can open the doors and they can come back out. How does that sound?’ I felt a bit emotional, like it felt so holding and so secure to be firmly and gently looked after like that, it felt like a calming of the chaos inside – instantly. I said it felt really good and she said, ‘It’s about strengthening adult Lucy… you have the resources you just need to be reminded of them… So I believe you are now aware of when your child or children are around… a bit like when I give a ten or fifteen minute warning at the end of a session when I notice that your child is still about, depending on what’s been spoken about, so that I can make sure adult Lucy drives home. We wouldn’t give a baby the wheel and let them drive home. I need to make sure that adult Lucy is back in charge. So that’s what you’re going to do. You let them have their mad moment of wild and then you regain control and put them in their rooms… then when we are together, they can be fully seen and they’ll have all the validation and space and compassion they need… how does that sound?’ I said, ‘yeah I really like the sound of that. I like the sound of letting them come back out when I’m with you.’

Towards the end of the call I said I was really angry with myself coz I’d binged the day before. I have worked really hard to form a healthy relationship with food and be kinder to my body, I had lost weight and was feeling stronger and healthier and I fucked it up by eating so much… I said, ‘I’m scared I’ll lose all control and put everything back on and then at the weekend when I was having a clear out my husband basically told me not to throw all my bigger clothes out ‘just in case’ and I felt like he thought I was definitely going to fail and I just felt awful.’ Anna said, ‘what I’m hearing is that he is being the practical husband who knows that we all fluctuate and that it might be sensible to keep a variety of sizes to save money but what you heard is ‘you’re a failure, I don’t believe in you, you’re going to put it all back on again,’ which is not what he said.’ I said, ‘yeah I hear that…’ she said, ‘I want to say well done for finding a short term fix to fill that hole. I know we’ve talked about that hole before, the polo mint affect… that hole in your chest… You were massively triggered to a young place and could have easily cut yourself, instead you ate. You survived, you got through and now you can go back to loving your body by feeding it what it needs.’ I loved that reframe. She said, ‘we all binge every so often, that family size bar of chocolate and full fat coke… we just get back to healthy eating the next day.’ I wish this self-forgiveness and self-compassion came as naturally to me as it seems to effortlessly come to her. But maybe that just shows how much work she’s done. I read today that ‘effortless takes a huge amount of effort to get to’… that’s probably true here.

I told her I slept on and off all day and that I actually felt so lazy and guilty for not going to work. Anna said, ‘I’m so pleased you were able to listen to your body, the emotional exhaustion needed to be met with kindness, you gave your body what it needed. Next week you will find a way to get back to work by containing the feelings and meeting them at more appropriate times but for now you needed the comfort and security of your blankets.’ Again… compassion. I went on to say that I have cancelled things this week, turned down catch ups with friends, zoned out from interactions within my family… I feel neglectful and selfish. Anna said, ‘I’m so proud of you for putting your needs first. You are always thinking of what other people need so it shows a lot of growth that you didn’t do that this time round. You reduced the energy you were putting into other people’s needs, gave yourself time to recharge and limited stimulus. Well done for giving yourself peace and quiet.’

She then said, ‘how about you type up a list, sometimes when we are seriously activated or in a very young place we don’t have the ability to think clearly about what we need… it’s like being in a house that’s on fire and you’re running around mental trying to figure out what to do and you’ve ran past the front door ten times… so let’s set up a ritual… a list of things you can do to tend to the child parts and bring your adult on board, typed up in small font, printed and laminated and put it in your purse so that each time you’re feeling lost you can reach for that list and you’ll probably get to the point where even though you know that list inside out, just the act of going to your bag, to your purse to get the list out will bring you to a calmer place…’ I was listening very carefully and uhu-ing as she went on to give some really great examples of things to put on the list. Towards the end of the list of ideas she said, ‘text Anna and ask for a ten minute call.’ I love that she offered that. She has consistently offered a call and I’ve asked just a few times for one. Only twice she has suggested that it would be good to save the conversation for when we are together. The other times she agreed to a call… I need to remember that she has never pushed me away. She has always willingly offered me more. Offered me hugs, offered me calls, offered longer sessions, additional sessions. There is no evidence that she is sick of me.

At the end I thanked her and she said, ‘I’m really pleased that I could give you this call. I feel it’s gone really well, it’s been really useful. Do you feel it’s worked out well… did it feel easier to talk because we were on the phone?’ It made me wonder if she doubted how it might go with me on the phone, I wondered if she was worried about my tendency to dissociate and how she could contain that while not being with me, or maybe this was the first time she has done a phone session and just couldn’t imagine how it would pan out. I said, ‘I don’t know if it was easier but it was more intimate having you right in my ear! Haha… it was great to have this talk I feel so much better… thank you so much!’ We exchanged some more pleasantries and then said, ‘see you next week’ and that was the end of the call. Bang on 60 minutes. Consistent. Reliable. Trustworthy. Boundaried.

I’ve reflected on this recently and talked it through with a friend and I’m left noticing a fundamental element of my relationship with Anna that I didn’t have with Paul. She has complete faith in me. she believes in my ability to help myself. She doesn’t want to save me she wants to constantly show me that I can save myself. She consistently points me back to myself. Whereas Paul happily saved me time and again. With Paul he gave endlessly and pushed out with the boundaries countless times, I thought that was love, but actually what Anna is doing, strengthening me, taking herself out of the picture where possible and reminding me of my inner capacity for healing, my innate ability to survive… she is constantly reminding me that I am doing this – I CAN DO THIS – that’s real love.

A Letter to my Mum

…from 17

I tried so hard to help you.

I tried so hard.

I did everything in my power to save you.

I loved you with my entire heart and body.

Everything I had I gave to you.

I tried so very hard to help you.

I gave you time, I gave you space… whatever you asked for I gave without question and never asked for anything in return.

I thought about you all the time… the birth of my preoccupied attachment… you flooded me. Every thought led back to you.

I worshiped you. I thought you were the perfect example of a mother/woman. I absorbed your words and spouted them back to you and out to the world – look at this mother of mine, isn’t she perfect? So much more than any other. She is cooler, more beautiful, more perfect. I buried my doubts so deep that I forgot they were even there. The sprouts would push at the soil and I mistook them for evidence of my own flaws. But they were never flaws.. they were resilient buds of intuition that I hacked at and squashed beneath the surface. I needed to believe that you were perfect and that all of these things were not your fault. I listened to your stories of your childhood. I listened to your stories of how unlucky you’ve been in relationships. Your words expanded and multiplied like the sponge of a rising cake in the oven so that there was never any space for my own words, my own thoughts.

I ignored your flaws. I minimised your mistakes, the pain. I turned my back on the truth – denied the abuse and fully embodied the role of your number one fan and supporter.

I tried so hard to help you. I searched for answers, I found self help books for you, highlighted bits, tore out pages and stuck them round the house. Wrote inspirational quotes on the fridge for you to find. Wrote you love notes and left them on your pillow. I told you that you were great, I willed you to believe me. I used study time at the library to look up answers on the internet for reasons why you might be struggling and ways you could get help. I took you to the doctor, sheets printed out about mental health issues, disorders that sounded like word for word descriptions of you. I put you first, every single time. I turned down invitations. I looked after my brother so you could have time to yourself. I filled you with compliments and showered you with praise.

I listened. I listened and worked so very hard to understand you. I listened to your adult woes and tried to understand them and give you validation and love and empathy. You would tell me I was so wise, an old head on young shoulders you said. You needed me. How did I create such a wonderful daughter you would say.

Then when the weight of you got too much for me… and even in my dreams I would imagine my legs buckling under the pressure so that I could no longer walk… I would ask you to stop, I would plead with you to find someone else to help you. Your rage would explode and you would batter me with disgust and spite – how could I have created such a selfish child you would cry. After all I have done for you this is how you repay me, you would scream.

It was never enough for you mum. No matter what I did, it was never enough. Your needs were a burden that I should never have been forced to carry. They were so heavy, they crushed me. I am an empty shell because I dedicated my whole life to filling you up.

You are too much for me. I am overwhelmed by you. I don’t know how to help you. I cut my skin to blead you out of me. I took the pills to kill all the parts of you that infested me. It was all too much for me…

One day I will leave. I will find all the small parts of myself that have been pushed into the corners of my shell and I will nourish those parts.

One day I will purge myself of you and then there will be space for me.

Trust the process

Even when it feels like everything is falling apart.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, some of my posts are copied here, sorry for the repetition. I’ve been journaling and trying to make sense of my experience this week and I thought I’d post about it here…

Two days ago I wrote in my journal that things were feeling good after my last session (the 90 minute session). I posted this on Instagram…

After my initial meeting with Anna (over two years ago) she gave me a questionnaire to fill in for our next session. One of the questions was, ‘How do you think you can help yourself in this process?’ And I wrote, ‘Commit to regular therapy sessions. Be open and self-aware. Be willing to listen, learn and make difficult changes. Trust the process. Maintain any between session work or think critically and carefully about previous / next sessions.’ I knew what I was talking about back then! TRUST THE PROCESS! Trust the damn process. Everything that happens in session, between sessions, as a result of sessions…. within the therapeutic relationship – everything is part of the process. Trust it. Everything can be worked on. Everything is worth working on.


Things are feeling quite good at the moment. Though the work is hard and the grieving is so painful, I feel positive that I am on the right track, that I am making progress and that Anna is able to help me. I do trust her and I do trust the process. I think this relaxing into the process and letting go of the need for control is one of the reasons why things are feeling better. More hopeful.


Whenever I start to doubt it, which I’m sure I will in time… someone please remind me to TRUST THE PROCESS!

Then the very next day it felt like the rug had been pulled from beneath me. I posted this…

All things must pass.
It always amazes me how quickly things can change. Nothing lasts. Nothing stays the same for very long. Ride the waves, Lucy… ride the fucking waves and trust that this raging ocean is wild and furious for a reason.

So I guess this is when I need to trust the process… not when all is going good, but exactly now… when things feel delicate and fragile and like they may break. I’m experiencing a massive kickback today. Emotional flooding. Body memories. This is hard. I wish I was seeing Anna tomorrow. It absolutely sucks that our session had to be cancelled and having an extra long session on Saturday didn’t detract from the longing I feel now. I feel so vulnerable, I have a sore tummy and I can’t stop crying. I had to take today off work. I feel like a failure but I also know this is what I need. This is a day for ‘7’ to just be and cry if she needs to, sleep if she needs to… this is the process. But I miss Anna and I want a hug from her so much. I want to smell her perfume and see her kind eyes.


I really wish I just *knew* Anna in ‘real life’. I want to be able to call her up now and cry down the phone with her. I feel so heart broken. I wonder if this is some sort of abandonment ‘flashback’ – after everything I told her on Saturday, to then not be able to see her for 10 days. I wonder if ‘7’ feels rejected and abandoned because of what I shared (does Anna need to protect herself from me?) oh this is hard. There’s such a strong desire to let Anna know that I didn’t make it into work today and that I’ve been crying on and off for the past two hours. But there’s no need really. She wouldn’t reply, she can’t do anything, she’s got her own life to live and I need to deal with this by myself.
Trust the process. It’s all I can do.

And then I posted this…

Sometimes the past won’t stay in the past. I experienced a massive kick back from Saturday’s session, from bringing certain things out into the light that have stayed hidden for decades. Today has been really hard. A lot of emotional overwhelm. When your trauma is relational, developmental… when you’ve been betrayed and violated by people who were meant to protect and care for you… when you believed time and time again that you could trust, that maybe today you’d be safe, maybe today you’ll be seen and looked after… and then again you’re let down, again you’re abandoned, again you’re rejected and again you’re hurt… it leaves some pretty deep scars.


I find close attachments with people a generation above me very triggering. I also find it very hard to trust myself. I’m hyper vigilant in these relationships. I assume I will be hurt. I predict the pain. I await the rejection and abandonment. I look for the hidden agenda behind seemingly kind actions. It is physically alive in my body. It’s not in the past. My brain may know that I am safe with Anna but my body believes this relationship is threatening. I’ve worked very hard to get to the point where I feel like I can trust her when we’re in the room. When she is in front of me, I feel she is being authentic and real with me. But it’s very hard for me to hold on to that feeling. Right now I am panicking, it feels like she’s forgotten about me or is glad she doesn’t HAVE to see me this week. I couldn’t handle the feelings earlier today and texted her asking for a call this week. I expect she’ll say no and maintain her boundaries. Her silence feels like a message to me that she’s sick of me, frustrated that the 90 minute session just a few days ago wasn’t enough for me. I always want more, it’s never enough. I’m too needy. I’m too much. She needs a break from me… hello inner critic! You’re also a very alive resident that’s hung around since the past.


I’ve managed to regulate as best I can today. I’ve looked after myself and taken it easy. But it is so hard. So hard.

Finally I shared this…

Ask and you shall receive… or something like that. I was brave. I asked for a phone session… or a short call that I’d happily pay for. I fully expected to receive a very considered, firm ‘no’ like I have in the past. Because Anna knows that boundaries are very important to me and she has experienced first hand the total devastation that can happen if she steps outside her boundary (even just slightly). Like the time I sent her an unclear message that sounded like I was at risk of harming myself so she phoned me. Her breaking her rules in that moment nearly sent me over the edge. We both learned very valuable lessons from that incident.


Boundaries, clear rules, consistency, clarity… these things feel safe and predictable. I need them.
I am learning though that boundaries can be flexible and that (as a good friend reminded me the other day) a ‘no’ can just mean a ‘not yet’ or an ‘here’s an alternative’. Also I am learning that as you build trust in an attachment, a boundary can be reassessed and changed slightly, safely, with consent.


So I sent a very adult text to Anna asking if we could have a phone session because the only reason today’s session was cancelled is because of maintenance taking place in the office. To my surprise she agreed. She has given me a time, confirmed the price and let me know that she will phone me. I actually can’t believe it. I nearly said ‘thanks but no thanks’ because I feel quite reassured that she’s okay with giving me the call… she wouldn’t have offered it if she was sick of me. She wouldn’t begrudgingly give me the call… she’s careful about keeping herself safe, she wouldn’t push herself to the point of being sick of me… I hope!

Ironically I’m not even sure what to talk about tonight. I’m going to have to drive somewhere quiet so I can give the session as much holding and containment as possible. I will need privacy and I will need to feel safe. How much can we get into on the phone? I’m in a very different place to where I was yesterday. I wish I could step back into those overwhelming emotions so I could share them with her in real time.


I guess I need to just TRUST THE PROCESS!

And that’s exactly what I did. I got in my car in the dark wearing four woolly jumpers and a scarf to keep warm, drove to a quiet beautiful space near where I live and watched the almost full moon hang in the night sky, reflected on the oil like black water below while I waited for her to call me.

I’ll write about that phone session in a new post.

The 90 minute session

‘…there must be more than this provincial life…’

When Anna offered me a longer session, it was to make up for the fact that she’d had to cancel our mid week session and as we are unable to meet at our usual time the following week there is going to be a ten day gap. I was actually really surprised she’d offered it to me because initially she’d just sent the message saying she was sorry but the session needed to be cancelled. I’d been unable to reply immediately and within half an hour she sent another message offering the 90 minute session. At the time of receiving the message I was feeling good, strong, I felt secure and happy to have the offer and safe enough to turn it down. I thought I’d be fine sticking to the one hour block. Then I thought a bit more about it and talked to a few people about what I feared would happen if I had a longer session. Would I get too deep into stuff? Would the session drag and I’d struggle to know what to say? I finally realised that Anna was offering me something I’d always wanted, so I asked if it was still available… thankfully it was.

So, I had my 90 minute session yesterday… something quite interesting shifted in me. I wasn’t as nervous or anxious as I usually am just before the session. I actually felt relaxed. I didn’t feel under pressure to hurry up and make the session progress quickly. The extra time really helped me relax and go with it. We started by talking about the dream I had a few days ago of the two neglected, forgotten children. We really looked closely at it and what it all means to me. Anna was intrigued by the dream, her face lit up when I got the bit when I turned around and noticed these two children standing behind me and she was delighted when I got to the end of the dream and told her I believed those two children were me. She seemed really pleased with my insight. We looked at the significance of the children, that the boy and girl represent different parts of me. She asked what they looked like and how old they were. When I told her they were roughly the same age, both 7, she asked me if I could find a reason why that might be. I talked about the things that were happening at that time in my life. That we’d just moved house, my life had changed beyond recognition. Life had been fairly carefree and happy for the previous two years (a somewhat idyllic existence sandwiched between years of neglectful darkness). When we moved house, suddenly it all changed. Anna inquired, ‘would it be right to say that this was the age you lost yourself?’ There was a quiet moment when we were looking at each other, a bit of a stunned silence and then simultaneously we said, ‘the age I (you) lost my (your) childhood.’ This felt like quite a revelation… I know that seems like a total hyperbole but it really did feel like a mind blowing realisation. That was the age I lost myself, lost my childhood. Oh god that’s painful, to really let that sink in. That poor little seven year old girl who was so full of energy and hope and vitality and creativity and wonder. Suddenly she had to grow up and whitewash her colours and dilute her energy and focus herself on meeting other people’s needs. We stayed with this for quite a bit. Anna and I sitting in that quiet room together, listening to the heater click off as it reached temperature then click back on again. I spent a lot of time staring at the plug socket then back at her. She asked if that felt accurate for me and I slowly nodded. The painful, heavy burden I carried. The overwhelming aloneness. We talked about significant moments in my life when my parents abandoned me physically and the consequences of their neglect. How frightening it was to be left on my own. The pressure of having to look after my little brother. Having to be a mini grown up. Being involved in adult conversations, keeping secrets… it should never have been that way. Anna noticed that the way I was talking about the children in my dream was different to the way I have talked about my child parts before, she said, ‘that’s new, that self compassion… the way you’re speaking, that you are able to see that you deserved to be looked after and cared for… it’s heartwarming to hear you talk with such compassion for yourself.’

Having a longer session really helped to reduce my overthinking and the need to control and plan everything. Knowing we had a little more time seemed to allow space for more flexibility and spontaneity. Whereas before I would carefully consider what I would bring up, constantly watching the time or asking how long we had left, this time the conversation flowed more naturally. We meandered through a few different topics that I’d previously avoided because it never felt like the right time or I never felt strong enough to fully enter into it. The theme of neglect and being left and abandoned was threaded through each memory shared.

I said, ‘another time I really felt abandoned, probably the hardest of all, was when my dad left.’ I described to Anna that it felt like I was drowning and just at the point of slipping under the surface, he turned his back on me and walked away. Slowly but surely he reduced the contact we’d agreed so that I hardly heard from him. I missed him so much, it felt unbearable without him. I reminded Anna of the time I’d tried to tell my dad how much I was struggling and he completely ignored my request for help. She said, ‘that must have felt devastating.’ It was starting to feel just like words and my head was a bit fuzzy. I could feel the dissociation starting, the disconnect, I’m much better at noticing it now. I asked her to repeat something she’d said because I forgot what we were talking about and then realised I needed to work on grounding so I put both my feet on the ground and brought the candle to my nose to smell it. I rested my hand on the heater to feel the warmth and slowly my body and mind began to marry up again.

Anna reminded me what we were talking about and I continued, ‘I felt safer when my dad was living with us… after he left I didn’t feel safe anymore.’ Anna asked me what the safety of my dad felt like and I said he had been like a barrier between me and my mum. Though she was always nasty to me, she was also nasty to him. With him gone, she no longer had him as a focus for her hatred, I received every last drop of her poison. I said, ‘Also, without my dad around, she’d let people in the house and in our lives we’d never have been exposed to before. When we were growing up she had these weird strict values that she lived by, she was really judgemental of people and looked down on anyone who didn’t fit into what she thought was the right type of person. But after dad left it’s like she completely lost all of that. She started associating with people she would never have looked twice at before. There were times when people I had never met before were in our ‘home’ and then she would pass out drunk and it would be down to me to protect my brother and me… not very well… from these people…’

I sat on the floor, feeling a bit overwhelmed with the memories. I put my head in my hands and slowed my breathing as my heart raced. ‘It was the worst year of my life…’ I said to Anna and I looked up at her as she nodded, full of emotion for me. I said, ‘so many horrible things happened and… I don’t think she has an awareness of how other people can feel things that she’s not feeling, like if she is okay then we must all be okay… I would try to tell her things and she’d completely dismiss it…’ I told Anna that by the end of the year I was feeling completely hopeless. I’d failed my exams that year, I was becoming more and more isolated from my friends… I had very little to live for.

The first Christmas without my dad, my mother had gave us an ultimatum. Basically we had to ‘choose’ to spend the day with her and her boyfriend. My brother seemed to adjust to this really well but I could no longer bear it. Anna said she believes my bother coped so well because he always had me protecting him, he was largely unaware of everything that was going on… I was the barrier for him. That Christmas day was utter hell. After getting through the day I stood at the kitchen window and watched my mum, her boyfriend and my brother build a snowman in the heaviest snow we’d had for years. I felt so alone and desperate. After an unanswered phone call to my dad, I decided to follow through with a plan I’d carefully thought through for months. I raided my mums medicine box and took every type of pill I could find. I laid them all out on my bed and took them along with my mums vodka. Handfuls of pills gulped down. I remember that moment so clearly sitting there – vodka burning my throat. By that point I was completely numb. Sitting on the floor across from Anna saying the words out loud to her was surreal. She made a noise that broke my heart, like it was painful for her to hear me recount the suicide attempt. I told her that within minutes I was vomiting in the toilet, that I assume my system couldn’t handle that much vodka all at once. Anna asked me if my mum ever found out and I told her no. she asked if I ever told my husband and I shook my head. She said, ‘I’m so glad you’re telling me now. I can imagine it took a lot of courage to tell me, I know this is not easy….’ She asked me what I’d hoped would happen and I said, ‘I wanted it to end!’ She asked what ‘it’ meant to me and I said, ‘my life as it was… I wanted what my life was to end’ Anna said, ‘in the nicest possible way, I’m so glad you were sick… I’m so glad you’re here… I’m glad you’re sitting here with me, telling me this… you were so lucky!’ I felt a twinge of shame as she said that, I think it’s the part of me that always feels like I’m not going to be believed. Does she think ‘so lucky in fact that its likely not true…?’ I let those doubts and shameful fears slide and tried to focus on the compassion on her face. I’m so glad you’re here. Although I know this is all fairly standard therapy chat, I felt every word was genuine and heartfelt. I know she meant it. I said, ‘I’m glad I’m here too, now.’

In a very slow and gentle tone Anna said, ‘if you were able to send a message back to that girl what would you say to her?’ I sat for ages thinking and could only manage, ‘that it gets better…’ she made a ‘mmm’ noise and nodded. After a bit of quiet time she said, ‘anything else?’ I said, ‘it’s not your fault.’ Her voice firmed up and she said, ‘absolutely! It is not your fault. Lucy, IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT! None of it. Do you believe that?’ I said that logically of course it wasn’t my fault, how could it have been? But there’s a small part still hanging on to the false sense of control that taking the blame affords me. She said she understood.

A bit later I was sitting back up on my chair and asking her to come and sit next to me. I wanted to feel the close connection that sitting right next to her gives me. I actually wanted her to touch me, like her hand on my arm or something… I still can’t cry about childhood stuff with her and even though it wasn’t expressed physically, I felt the crying inside and wanted to be physically comforted. But just asking her to sit next to me is massive so I left it there for now. Anna was telling me how much progress she’s noticed since we started working together. She said I am now far more able to share memories with her than I was before. She said I wouldn’t go near that kind of vulnerability a few months ago, that it was all drenched in too much shame. She said she was proud of me and she can see how hard I’ve worked at this. It felt so nice to hear her say this, I soaked it up.

Anna said, ‘it feels like this process of talking and sharing all of these memories, all of these parts of you, is very important for you, this is the work. You weren’t ever seen in this way, it’s so important for you to share this now.’ I said, ‘yeah and it’s important that you are accepting what I share and helping me understand it.’ She said, ‘did you ever have a heroine growing up? Someone you looked up to? A superhero or something? Maybe from a book or film?’ She asked me to share the first character that came to mind and I said, ‘I always loved Belle from Beauty and the Beast… she isn’t a superhero but she’s fucking strong, she saved her dad from the Beast, she didn’t conform to what society said she should do or be, she was smart and strong-willed… she even saved the Beast from himself but never violated her values in the process, she was kind and loving but respected herself… she didn’t fit in, everyone said she was weird but she stayed true to herself. She was a dreamer and wanted more than what was offered to her so she just went out and got it. I really loved her… she didn’t need anyone to save her either, she fucking saved herself.’ Anna smiled and raised her eyebrows when I said she saved herself. Now that I’m reflecting on this I remember reading about this hero/heroine stuff in the transactional analysis books. It’s something to do with our script story… things we tell ourselves when we’re very young. Anna said, ‘and you saved yourself from your Beast!’ I said, ‘what, the Beast being my mother?’ She said, ‘the Beast being your mum, your dad, the environment you were living in, the way you were treated, the self harm, suicide ideation… you are saving yourself every day, growing stronger, not putting up with the story your mum told you, making your own story…’ I quite like that.

I’m amazed at how much we managed to cover in 90 minutes. It makes me realise how precious time is. How desperate I have been for Anna to give me more time. More time, more of herself, more, more, more. Now that she is giving me more of certain things (when she sees that it is the right thing to do), those parts of me that constantly want more are quietening or rather they are awakening. The grieving has woken up inside me again, the pain is being felt. I’ve done quite a lot of sobbing my heart out since the session and I’m left realising that this is the point of it all. THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT. Therapy isn’t there to make us feel better. Therapy is there to make us feel. And teach us how to cope with those feelings. This is the journey, these are the steps I must take and this is how I must spend these days, weeks, years as I now process what has been buried for a lifetime.

Before leaving I said, ‘do you feel differently about me now after what I’ve told you?’ She looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘not at all, if anything I feel closer to you, and I feel heart sorry for that young girl. I wish things had been different for you, Lucy…’ I said, ‘does it feel okay to feel closer to me?’ and she smiled and said, ‘it feels really good.’

She gave me a really firm hug before I left. While hugging I thanked her and she said, ‘you did so well today Lucy, well done for staying with that, I’m very proud of you.’ I said, ‘thank you for giving me the space to do all this…’ She said, ‘you are so welcome.’ In a really heartfelt way. So that’s what a 90 minute session feels like… and now I want 90 minute sessions every week!

How could I forget the lost children?

I had a dream last night that felt very significant. It was drenched in massive emotions and lots of very vivid details.

In my dream I was very stressed and anxious – overwhelmed with mum duties. It was the morning time on a work/school day and I was getting my kids ready but I hadn’t left any time for myself to get ready for work. Then I turned around and to my surprise I had these two other children, a girl and a boy. They looked so much more like me than my own kids. They had my brown hair and eyes and I felt a very deep connection with them. I felt completely panicked and desperately grieved… how had I forgotten these other two children? How had I poured myself into meeting the needs of my (actual real life) privileged, blond haired children, excessively freaking out that I was failing them all the time, when really I was lavishing them with attention and love while completely neglecting these two brown haired, lonely, sad and afraid kids.

In my dream, two of my managers were in my house and I was desperately pleading with them to let me stay home so I could try to mend things with these two children I had rejected for all of their lives. I needed to see them, spend time with them and show them I love them. I could see my two (real) children were healthy and stable and secure and happy, in extreme contrast with the other two forgotten, lost children who looked neglected and unloved and sorely in need of care.

There was an urgent desire to make things right. To send my secure, happy and healthy kids off for the day knowing they were fine and then stay at home with these two poor neglected souls so that I could do my very best to meet their needs and tend to their broken hearts.

I woke up feeling very sad, like grief type sad… the first words I said to myself were, ‘those lost children were me…’

I need to find them and love them and hope they forgive me for all the years I’ve neglected them.

Control is an Illusion

Almost seven years ago my first therapist, Paul said to me, ‘control is an illusion.’ I was really pissed off with him for saying it because I had built my whole sense of self around the idea that I could control everything… but I wasn’t quite ready to tell a therapist that I was angry so it sat with me for years. He never elaborated and so my understanding on the topic stagnated.

Over the years my understanding of the illusionary nature of control has deepened. We can have power and we can feel in control but we can not have full control over everything. I think I understand on a cognitive level that I can not control most of the things I wish I could control.

Take my next session as an example… I decided last night that I did in fact want to accept the 90 mins that Anna had offered. She replied today confirming the time was still available. From then I have had massive anxiety symptoms in my body and racing thoughts of how I can make it the perfect session. My stomach is behaving as if I have food poisoning – proper threat brain response. And all the questions… how can I make the most of this 90 minutes with her? …. what if I waste our precious time? … what if I get too deep into something then have to hold it for over a week til next time? … what if I go somewhere new and I push her past her invisible limit and she wants to stop working with me because of it? … what if I lose myself? What if!??? What if!???

But then I was reminded of the beauty of letting go. Let go of any expectations. Let go of the control and let spontaneity happen. Let authenticity happen. Let real, raw, unplanned connection and vulnerability happen.

Completely terrifying.

Vulnerable.

Authentic.

Naked.

Raw.

Real.

Flawed.

Unplanned.

Unique.

Unpredictable.

Me.

Petrifying.

I want to plan what I will talk about on Saturday. I want to plan how I will be with her. But I can’t. It’s not coming.

So maybe I need, instead, to let go. Trust the process and see where it takes me.

Welcome Her Home

When I arrived at my session today I felt very agitated. I couldn’t get comfortable I moved about, took my shoes off, changed position in my chair a few times, had a sip of water, told Anna a funny story about my youngest kid asking me what Anna smells like then I finally took a deep breath and said. ‘I feel very agitated just now.’ She calmly smiled, still sitting in the same position she was in when we sat down five minutes before and slightly nodded. She asked me if I had a sense of what that was about and I said I didn’t know… then I said maybe it’s because I spend the days between sessions ‘banking’ topics to talk about in session and then in the few minutes leading up to the start of the session it all pours out of the bank and into my consciousness and I’m suddenly very aware of all these difficult things I’d promised myself I’d talk about. She smiled and said she could understand that would make me feel agitated and anxious. She told me to take my time and try to explain what was going on in my body. As we were tuning in to the sensations and feelings in my body I started to feel spacey. She asked me to put my feet flat on the floor and look at her which I did, it nearly made me cry. She just looks so stable and reliable and calm and warm and all the things I want. I felt my breathing automatically align with hers as I looked at her, a few disjointed, choppy breaths and then a deep one… I felt like I was able to regulate with her help and then I started to talk.

I said that the last couple of sessions have been really useful and that things feel better in my close relationships than they have for a while. I’ve been more connected and have been letting my husband be more emotionally intimate with me. The mood changed quite suddenly and different, contradictory words started to tumble out, ‘but there’s a fear there, I can feel it, it’s not nice, it’s too much, all of this is too much, I don’t want them to know me, this is all to much, I feel weird, I don’t like this!’ Anna asked if something she had said had made it feel too much and I said no, it wasn’t her, ‘it’s just reminding me so much of mum, it’s right there all the time.’ The spacey feeling came back and the room was spinning. I felt like I was drifting up and away, I put my head in my hands, elbows on my knees. ‘I feel shit, I hate this so much, I want it to stop! I don’t get why this is such a big deal.’ Anna said, ‘you don’t?’ And I said, ‘I don’t what?’ And there was a moment of her looking at me as if she was thinking – do you know what you just said? She repeated, ‘you don’t know why this feels like such a big deal?’ And I said, ‘I guess maybe it’s scary to let people in, this is another stage of opening myself up and it’s scary.’ She nodded and then asked me what I was feeling now. I couldn’t really focus on anything. There was a lot of white noise in my head and a buzzing in my whole body under my skin. Eventually I said, ‘there is so much noise – it’s like a hundred cassette tapes all playing at once.’ She asked me what the tapes were playing and I told her, ‘memories, different memories, stories in my mind… but it’s just all too much.’

I felt so cold and I scanned the room for a heater. I spotted it and asked if it was on. She got up and pulled it closer to me then I dragged it right over to beside my chair and rested my arm on it. I told her I’d not been able to heat up all week, that it reminded me of back then… she called them body memories. Being freezing cold all the time, wanting to cover myself up. Feeling exposed and unprotected. I went over the same memories again and again. I remembered all the times I was shut out of the family room where my parents and brother were in the warmth by the coal fire. She asked me how old I would have been and I said, ‘this happened a lot but the earliest time I remember I was about 5… but then I remember it happening in every house we lived in… every age… it happened all the time.’ She said, ‘okay,’ in a gentle voice. I don’t know why she said that, maybe because she was just trying to get me to place the age that was speaking to me. To connect to the inner child that was coming through.

I said, ‘fourteen… I’m fourteen… coming home from school to a dark house that’s cold and empty feeling – especially when mum was in a deep depression, it would feel as though the air had been sucked out of the house.’ I stared into space a bit then moved in my seat and noticed her mirroring my positioning, head tilted in the same direction. I think she does that to try to better read me and to help me feel seen in a non threatening way. I continued, ‘I never knew what would be behind the front door and sometimes I’d open it and there would be nothing, silence, her bedroom door shut, cold and dark, but not empty, I knew she was in there. Like I could feel the depression… other times I just knew she had someone with her, so I’d creep in quietly and hide in my room.’ I could hear my heart beating in my ears.

I quickly moved on. I told her of the times my mother’s mania triggered frenzied shopping sprees or interior design overhauls and the house would be a frantic whirlwind of activity… so much so that she wouldn’t even notice I was home. The house would be floor to ceiling with second hand furniture that she’d bought on a whim and was ‘distressing’ or the wallpaper would be stripped off the walls in three rooms with the old paper strewn across the floor like the entrails of a dissected mouse the cat had tortured. Often there would be a new craft protect on the go and bags of new stencils, paint and glue lying everywhere, a lipstick stained cigarette burning to the filter in an ash tray somewhere. Windows wide open, cold air rushing in and incense sticks in every room to disguise the smell of smoke and paint fumes.

Anna talked to me about how lonely I must have felt and how resilient that little girl was for coming home, making herself and her brother food, carefully detecting the mood of her mother and knowing how to behave around her. She reminded me that I would sometimes have to listen to my mother as she cried and repeated old heartaches to me. All of the things I’d do to try to make her happy. How I could stay on my mums good side by meeting all of her needs, no matter how badly I would betray my own boundaries and values in order to do so.

I told Anna that when I was a bit older, sometimes my mum just wouldn’t be home. Sometimes I would hide away in my room listening to music so loudly that my brain didn’t have space to think of anything else.

Anna said, ‘For some reason I have a vision of your current home, full of light, lights in every room, lights in the kids rooms… light and warmth throughout.’ I nodded and said my house is always warm and full of light. She asked what my lamp beside my bed was like and it suddenly dawned on me, ‘I don’t have one! I’ve got lots of little lights all over the house, one on my husbands side of the bed but none on mine.’ Anna looked kind of moved by this. She’d been emotional at places throughout the session – red rimmed eyes. She said, ‘So the whole house is glowing with light except little Lucy’s corner which is still in the cold, dark shadow of your past…?’ I nodded, took a deep breath and spread my scarf over my legs. Anna said, ‘that little girl deserves a light of her own, to help create a safe and comfortable space for her. Give her the light and warmth she always craved but was never allowed, show her that you know she’s here… you see she’s come home… welcome her home.’ I was nodding, looking at Anna’s hands in her lap. There’s a part of me that’s fascinated with Anna’s hands. They look soft and kind. She went on, ‘I know you’re going to the shops on the way home. Why don’t you pop into the one with the big lights department and have a wander. You know how mesmerising it is in there… you know how sometimes something just speaks to you? That’s your inner child… see if you can find a lamp for Little Lucy to have beside the bed.’ She then explained that the lamp might bring things up for me and if that happens I should write them down. Anything that comes to mind when I see the lamp, just make a note of it and ‘park it’ for when we see each other next session.

So that’s exactly what I did. I went to the shop and I bought a very cute little lamp to go beside my bed. I honestly have no idea why I had neglected this one corner of the house for so long… but now this lamp has been here for less than a day and I can’t believe I didn’t get one sooner. It’s made me smile every time I’ve walked in here. It’s such a cozy, homely space now. It feels nice to have this lamp and to know it connects me to Anna. She’s really doing good work with me just now. It’s moving something inside me that was once stone. Like moving mountains (as cliched as it sounds). Softening my hardness. Inside my mind I am holding little ‘4’s’ hand as we sit side by side next to this lamp of ours. And it feels okay!

It’s Not Fair

The past couple of sessions have been focused on present day relationships. I’ve been in a very adult place and there have been some pressing issues in my close relationships that needed to be picked apart.

So often, present day issues are ignored because the past feels urgent and like it has waited long enough. But recently it’s felt okay and right to talk about ‘today’. Of course, as Anna often points out, even when we’re not taking about my mother it is always about my mother. Repeating patterns in current relationships can always be traced back to her. How I expect to be treated. How I armour myself needlessly, in an act of wilful protection, as if by creating an impenetrable wall now could somehow protect the child of 30 years ago. I cannot go back in time, I cannot save her. But I am starting to listen. I am starting to pay attention, to feel, to hear and therefore to heal. By breaking down the seemingly innocuous details of present day irritations, arguments, unspoken rules, beliefs… I am gifted with a window into my past through the lens of Anna’s expertise and greater perspective.

Anna reminded me, as we finished up on Tuesday, that my mind will process in ways I can’t predict, and to be gentle with myself. The processing… it is happening now. I have felt great all day – actually had the thought that maybe I could reduce my sessions, that I haven’t had any overwhelming emotions threaten to drown me recently. Then tonight, completely out of the blue, I had the image in my mind of my teenage self coming home and not knowing what state I would find my mother in and I suddenly found myself crying on the bathroom floor, sobbing, ‘it’s not fair…’ over and over, silently. ‘I just wanted a normal mum… I wanted her to cook me dinner, to ask about my day, to care about me, to love me… it’s not fair.’ And there it is – the unpredicted processing, the grief flooding in through the cracks in the bathroom door and I’m gasping again.

What a twisted, meandering maze this recovery game is… and I know no one ever said life was fair but, it really isn’t fair at all!

Holding

When I can’t stand myself, she perseveres. When I can’t look at it, she bears witness. When I hate every fibre of my being, she finds something to like. When I want to let go and give up, she holds on.

Anna is a transactional analysist and part of her work is looking at the child ego. She explores it in different ways and explains that we all have parts of ourselves – some people’s parts are more fragmented than others. Some people can sense one child self, others can sense many.

I find it easier to explore very painful memories by talking about the part of me that experienced it. So rather than saying ‘I felt….’ I might say, ‘that part of me feels/felt’. I also find it easier when I relate to the age of the part. So we’ve been working with ‘4’ recently. At the moment I feel irritated and annoyed by 4. I hate 4. I want her to go away. But then those thoughts hurt 4 and so I feel her hurt at being rejected. I am conflicted inside. Feeling both the disgust and the shame. The dismissiveness and the neediness.

I am loathed to imagine being loving and kind towards 4. Part of me feels that she is to blame for everything.

During one session months ago Anna asked me to imagine 4 was sitting in the empty chair beside me then she looked pensive and said, ‘actually, no, because then I’m colluding with the critical parent part that wants rid of her, how about we place 4 on your lap… she’s sitting with you just there.’ She gestured towards my lap and I immediately curled my knees up to my chest and turned away. I said, ‘I’m really uncomfortable with that I don’t want her being so close to me.’

We’ve explored this quite a lot over the past two years and I wrote recently that Anna said, ‘I want to scoop her up and hug her.’ In my last session I brought that up. I said, ‘when you told me that you felt like you wanted to scoop that 4 year old girl up and hug her… that was really powerful. It moved something inside me. I can’t imagine being loving towards her yet but I can imagine her receiving what she needs from you, and that feels like it’s a step in the right direction… all week I’ve been imagining her with you and it feels comforting and like it’s softening something inside me.’ Anna smiled and said, ‘that sounds good… I’ll happily hold her just now, until you’re ready to take her back.’

I love the thought of Anna holding 4. That Anna is not disgusted or irritated by 4 and her wild energy and intense need. Part of me thinks that if Anna can love 4 then maybe I can too.