We had a fairly stressful weekend with a lot of flooding in our area and too much time spent altogether indoors. We did go outside a bit to ‘enjoy’ the wet weather with waterproofs and wellies but it is bitterly cold and really quite grey and miserable. Also, we tried to enjoy the time indoors with hot chocolates and movies but two young kids, small house, two adults in various stages of unprocessed developmental trauma needing space and time… it really was going to be a challenge at the best of times! Monday morning came and I felt my ‘child’ rear her tantrum head… she did not want to go to work. I’d taken the previous week off work with a terrible migraine and body pains… I have a very strict discipline policy at work for absence and I can’t really have any more time off. So I went in. I got through the day on autopilot.
As soon as I closed the door behind me after work the flood gates opened. I could feel it well up inside me from the depths of my tummy, up, up, up through my solar plexus, throat, head and then burst into tears. I think I had spent the day in this sort of compartmentalised dissociated state I get into sometimes when I have to just get on with adulting even when all I want to do is curl up in bed and hibernate for a year, only coming out for therapy sessions! So anyway, I was crying on and off all afternoon and late into the evening on Monday. I had to shelve the tears for my kids coming home, shelve them again for dinner, shelve them to go to the gym (which to be honest I don’t even know how I did that) and shelve them for chatting to my husband in the evening before going to bed early. The very intense thoughts of being an awful mother overwhelmed my mind. That I’m just like my mother. I had a muddled conversation with my friend as I tried to put into words what had triggered me… the main points of that conversation were:
I just feel panicky when I think about the importance of this job of being a parent and how fragile the line is between getting it right and getting it wrong. If I think about how hard we’re all working to heal this shit, all of the people I talk to online… all of the pain they’re going through trying to cleanse themselves of the trauma. Here I am now at the head of my family, I have the opportunity to NOT fuck things up right now so that my kids don’t have to work on healing from the damage I could inflict on them and I don’t think I’m managing to do that! It’s the one thing I wanted more than anything, to break the chain and not pass down the trauma, and I feel like it’s the very thing I’m doing… traumatising them, just by being here with them. And so my friend said to me that actually the bar is quite low for being a ‘good enough’ mother. And that fills me with grief and this desperate panic… it frightens the hell out of me. Because if the bar is low that must mean things were really actually awful for me growing up. That my mother couldn’t even reach a very low bar. And also, if I’m not fucking my kids up with what I’m doing and the bar is low, then what my mum did was abuse. But there’s a part of me that can’t get my head around that. Which makes me think I really am very fragmented… because I’ve talked at length about how abusive my mum was. But right now I can’t hear it or believe it. So maybe she wasn’t abusive and she did reach the ‘good enough mother’ bar. So my childhood was fine but I’m here struggling like hell so I must just be overly sensitive. I’m the one with the problem. Because I think my mum isn’t an abuser. I think she was maybe traumatised by her traumatised parents. And she had periods in her life when she was definitely mentally unstable – kind of up and down. And I kinda get on okay with her now from a distance. Also, things are easier for people who want to heal these days. It wasn’t as accessible back then. I have so much information at my fingertips that she never had. But I’m so confused, I don’t know where to go with this. How can I be angry with her when she didn’t know what she was doing, if she was traumatised, and she never wanted kids, and was possibly mentally unstable? How can I be anything but sorry for her? And then actually the bar for her should be very low. Because of everything I just wrote about her. She was fighting battles she couldn’t even see… they say you can only do the best with what you know… maybe that was her best? But for me the bar has to be higher. Because I am more educated. I have more resources available to me. I’m in a happy marriage. I have therapy. I have so much more than she had. So yes I should expect more from me… so I am failing and doing even worse than my mum. Because I have so much more help and knowledge… I have no excuse – this is why ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough for me, I should be aiming for perfection and on that note I am massively failing. There are many moments where I avoid emotional connection and intimacy with my kids. I know how damaging that can be… the emotionally distant mother can create all sorts of attachment disorders. And there are times when I go out and I miss bedtimes etc. sometimes multiple nights a week. Just like my mum did. Only I know how negatively impactful it can be. She didn’t know. So what I’m doing is so much worse. I am a worse mother than my own mother and therefore I am massively fucking my kids up and they’d be better off without me.
After talking with my friend and regulating a bit, I lay in bed holding Baby Panda sobbing because she no longer smelled of Anna. (See notes from the last session.) At 10pm, in desperation, I text Anna this message, ‘There’s a risk that I’m going to immediately regret asking this as soon as I send it but here goes… please would you consider bringing your perfume to the session tomorrow evening so I can spray it on the bear? Sorry to send a late text. I’m asking now coz if you go straight from work to therapy (and you’re not completely freaked out by the idea and still want to see me) then you’ll need to put it in your bag in the morning (and if it’s a no, please be gentle with me… I’m fighting pure nausea just writing this text out!)’
As soon as I hit send I felt myself leave my body. I literally felt it happening. Like when you get a fright and you jump out your skin. Sheer panic overloaded my body and whoosh I was out of it. I took a couple of painkillers to help me sleep. I didn’t fully return to my body all of the following day. I got through work on autopilot feeling as though I was the captain of a robot ship – sitting in the cab steering the body, arms and legs, looking out of the window eyes. Feeling nothing. I was certain my request would push Anna over the edge. I considered on a number of occasions throughout the day, texting Anna again to ask her to pretend she hadn’t got that last text.
I was incredibly nervous before the session but in a very distant way. I couldn’t feel the adrenaline fuelled panic I normally feel coursing through my veins, this time I felt numb and floaty. I hovered into the building and without making eye contact sat down in front of Anna. I’d gone over and over what I might say to her, that I didn’t really mean it, that it didn’t matter afterall… there was silence so I looked up at her and she gave a gentle smile and placed her perfume bottle on the table beside my water. I could not believe it. I felt a massive wave of emotion blow me over. Joy, grief, gratitude, shame, warmth, terror… I looked at her eyes and she looked quite emotional. Her face was just so fucking there right in front of me like she was really willing me to engage with this moment. It was too much for me and I immediately hid my face While hiding in there she talked about how brilliant it was that I’d asked for what I needed. I managed a whispered, ‘thank you so much’ but stayed hiding for quite a while. I didn’t really hear any of what she as saying because I was so dissociated.
An intense, slow, gently connecting session followed.
At one point, when I’d come out of hiding (still with the bottle sitting on the table – occasionally being glanced at by me just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it), I told Anna the big long garbled mess of thoughts that had upset me on the Monday night. I told her about my expectations for me as a mother and she said, ‘but the bar is different for everyone. You could have 7 people all in the same family and each one would experience things differently.’ That felt really uncomfortable to me, I said, ‘so it is my fault that I felt the way I did…’ she softened and said, ‘no, none of it was your fault, you did nothing wrong.’ I said, ‘but if I made it a bigger deal than it actually was?’ she said, ‘whose words are they?’ I didn’t answer her. A bit later when I was talking about how maybe my childhood was fine I experienced this sort of surge in my brain – I said, ‘there were so many days when it was so awful though… day after day… I remember the dread, walking up the lane to go home after school, I remember the dread in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t find a place for me anywhere.’ She said, ‘yes, and you remember that, that was real, it really did happen and it was that bad.’
(Reflecting on that now, I’m realising that the feeling I get when I come home from work is an emotional flashback! It isn’t that much about my present day life it is my body reexperiencing the dread and pain and terror and depression and loneliness of my childhood… this sinking in the pit of my stomach and a numb grey wash loosely masking the blind panic inside that my life had no meaning and no joy and no hope… emotional flashback. Fuck I was so desperately along and frightened. Such big enormous feelings for a child to hold… I need to take this to Anna!
Back to the session…
Anna reminded me that I have spoken about having fun with the kids and that sometimes when I’m in this space I can’t feel or remember these times. I said it wasn’t like that in reality. I said, ‘I don’t think I lied to you but it’s just not that clean cut… I don’t really have solid happy present moments with my family… I get triggered so easily, I get spacey and turn into myself, I want to get away from them, I fake it for a bit but it’s not really how I feel inside.’ Anna said, ‘you feel like you fake it but I see it differently. I see you making an effort. Despite how you feel inside you’re making an effort with your family, you are trying to give them what you didn’t have. You greet your kids with a warm smile and open arms every day, you read them bedtime stories, you play with them, you are doing what was not done for you…’ I started getting really agitated and frustrated and said, ‘I cant explain it properly I can’t get the words right so you get it.’ Anna’s expression… I don’t know how to describe it… like deeply connecting in a sad way.. she said, ‘I am trying very hard to understand.’ But it wasn’t a critical or defensive statement. It was like a, ‘I’m so sorry that you feel I’m not understanding you, I am trying hard.’ I felt awful for her. I said, ‘its not you, I feel you trying to understand, it’s me, I don’t know how to explain it.’ she told me to take my time and reminded me that this is why it’s great when we have these 90 minute sessions because we have more time.
Anna said, ‘I remember you talking about your mum having two sides… one where she was quite cruel and unloving to you and the other side, the side where she would call you ‘sweety darling’… do you feel that she was being fake?’ I thought about it and said, ‘yes! So I’m just like her!’ Anna said, ‘but why was your mum being nice to you in those moments?’ I said, ‘to look good in front of people.’ She said, ‘and are you being nice to your kids only when you are in front of people?’ I said, ‘no, its usually when its just me and them…’ she said, ‘yes because you want to make sure they can feel your love, they can feel your care… you’re making an effort to break the cycle and love them the way you should have been loved… your mum never made that kind of effort…’ I said, ‘in fact just before I moved out she told me, ‘I wasted 17 years of my life on you…’ Anna let out a pained gasp/sigh… even though we’ve talked about this statement before… we talked about it in depth actually as it preceded one of the worst bouts of self-harm I ever inflicted on myself with 17 deep lines scored into my leg as an alternative to the one line vertically drawn down my wrist that I’d planned. Anna held her fists to her chest and said, ‘oh that just hurts so much, it’s just such a wounding thing to be told…’ I said, ‘I hated that she called me darling, she never called me by my fucking name… I always make sure I call Grace by her fucking name because that’s the right thing to do she should know her name!’ Anna said, ‘you’re doing it because you know it hurts to not be called by your name. you’re doing it because you love Grace and care about her and you want her to feel that love… that’s connection.’ I nodded and sat with that for a bit.
A little later Anna said, ‘So you sent that text after the last session saying that the feelings hit you as soon as you left the session…’ I said, ‘yes and I suddenly missed you, so much.’ More silence. I looked at her and she was gently looking at me… just looking… it feels so bizarre to be looked at. Just holding that spoken truth in the air. She asked me how I was experiencing our connection right now and I said, ‘but you asked me that last session and I said I could feel the connection but then as soon as I left I realised I couldn’t and sent that text. Sometimes it’s hard to even feel like anyone else is here. It’s almost like you’re a figment of my imagination. So… who knows! I know that you are sitting there, you are here with me, I feel like you are reaching over to me and I’m behind this glass wall… screaming and banging my fists on this glass wall… I want it to not be here anymore, I want to feel you.’ She said, ‘I’m so glad it’s a glass wall.’ I hesitated then asked why. She explained, ‘because it’s not brick. We can see each other. And perhaps it’s not a wall, it’s sliding doors… and the doors can open like this (motioned her hands placed palms together in front of each other then opened a little in front of her) and they can close… whenever you choose… unlike the blind that rolls up or down or the wall that you peek over… what do you think about that?’ I was nodding and I agreed and said I liked that but I just wish the glass wasn’t there at all. She said, ‘it’s there for a very good reason, you were hurt Lucy, you learned how to protect yourself. I’m so glad that you invented ways to protect yourself… and now you are slowly learning how to let certain people in… baby steps remember.’ There was a moment of pause where we weren’t speaking then she said, ‘what do you feel you need right now?’ and before I could engage my brain I blurted out, ‘I just want to leap across the room and hug you…’ I immediately panicked and plunged myself into my jumper and said, ‘no I don’t… I don’t…but I do… I do soooo muuuuuch!’ in a very young longing winey tone. Eventually she calmly said, ‘would you like a hug?’ still in my jumper I said, ‘yes but also no…’ I started to cry. She asked if I wanted her to sit next to me which I did so she moved the other chair beside me, I could hear it happening. She then put her hand on my arm after asking if I wanted her to. I felt all the crying inside me and it came out in silent little drops. I had an image of my mum in my mind and how much I’d wanted to wrap my arms around her waist and be consumed by her holding. Anna eventually asked, ‘is this alright?’ I nodded. I could feel my breathing do weird things. Little breaths then one big breath in. I could head Anna mimicking my big breaths then I tuned in to her deep consistent breathing and mine followed hers. Eventually I came out from under my top and blew my nose, dried my eyes. Hid my face from her with my arm. She slowly lifted her hand from my arm.
My memories of the session are a little hazy here. I know that we talked about how stressed and overwhelmed I get at home and work. That my work is open plan and there isn’t a single space in the building where I could be alone other than a cubicle in the toilets. And at home there isn’t a room in the house that I wouldn’t be followed into. There just is no space that’s mine. I have very few minutes in my day when I am on my own in a room… I know that in a way that is a blessing but also I really need space. I need alone time to process. To be myself. To feel things. To think without being interrupted. Anna said, ‘so, beautifully, you created that space inside yourself.’ I paused and looked around the room trying to take this in, I said, ‘in my head?’ she nodded. She said ‘don’t you think it’s amazing that you have given yourself what you need, when there seems to be no way of getting it externally? You needed space and peace so you made it inside!’ (I’ve been working this over in my mind since she said it and it’s really quite incredible how she does this, she reframes things that I had demonised inside my head and she turns it into something admirable and completely understandable… and she’s right! I did this all my life. My internal world is magical. It is everything I needed and always has been. All through my childhood… I have memories of the ‘real world’ and then I have memories of all the amazing things I did inside my head… in my inner world I could be and do anything I wanted… I was so many different things… I went to so many different places. I felt all the things I wanted to feel. In my inner world I was safe and loved and free. That’s why triggers and nightmares and flashbacks felt like such a terrifying attack… my external world wasn’t safe and loving but at least I had my inner world. When that was threatened, when my inner world was penetrated by fear and doubt and shame and terror – I had nothing. I have nothing. This is something I need to take back to session.
So ten minutes before the end of the session. We’re sitting right next to each other in two separate arm chairs pushed side by side with no gap between. She’s slowly taken her hand off my arm and I am able to look at her now. I said, ‘that moment when you asked what I needed and I burst out with ‘I want to leap over and ug you’ was like this crazy speaking without thinking kind of thing… I kinda wish I could do more of that coz it was like I was speaking right from here (hand on my belly).’ Anna smiled, ‘yes and that will happen more and more, rather than chastising yourself for not always talking like that, praise yourself for saying that one statement from your gut… a year ago you didn’t want to feel even the edges of your feelings and now you’re saying ‘I really hate this but what is it I’m feeling what do I need?’ this is amazing progress… you will get there!’ I said, ‘yeah I guess so… coz you know, there are so many things that I think and don’t say…’ she was nodding enthusiastically, eyes widened for me to go on… ‘like I want to have more hugs, I wanna hug you for a long time… I just don’t want to be too much you know I don’t want you to feel depleted after you’ve spent time with me you know im scared that I’ll be too needy and you’ll be exhausted and…’ Anna stopped me and said, ‘you really don’t need to worry about me you know Lucy, I’m okay. I really am okay.’ She looked so stable and secure and like she really knew the words she was saying, she really meant it. I said, ‘I really need you to be okay…’ she nodded and said, ‘yes I know, I am, okay. I really need you to be kinder to yourself… you’re very very hard on yourself. You are doing a very hard job, you’re a mother and you are in intense therapy… just one of those things would be exhausting but you’re doing all three at once.’ I smiled and said, ‘so you don’t feel like you dread our sessions or feel like you breathe a sign of relief after I’ve gone or something…? I really felt like I was emploring her, searching her face in childlike wonder for the answers. She had such a lovely smile and said, ‘ I really enjoy working with you Lucy, I could not and would not do this if I didn’t… don’t you think you would be able to tell if I felt like that?’ I thought about it and said I maybe would.
Finally, in the final few minutes while we were so beautifully connected I asked again, ‘how did you feel when you read my text?’ this question came from a playful, trusting, young place. I feel like she sensed that. She smiled at me asking and said, ‘I felt very moved. It’s a big deal! I’m so touched that your young part was so brave and vulnerable, I know that it’s very hard.’ I said, ‘and was there ever a no in your thoughts at all, when you considered how you felt about bringing the perfume? Did you think it over considering yes or no..?’ she shook her head still gently smiling, ‘not at all. For a start I know how important smell is. It was a really meaningful request. Instantly a yes from me. It felt very connecting. I’m really pleased you asked…’ I took in a big satisfying breath and so did she then she said, ‘So are Luna and Baby here… and do they want a skoosh?’ I suddenly felt frozen and asked her, ‘why is this so hard…?’ She just looked at me patiently and then I said, ‘coz it feels young and exposing…?’ She nodded. I said, ‘it’s so hard to ask for things.’ She said she knew and understood, ‘that’s why I am so very proud of you, you were frightened but you asked!’ I checked, ‘this is okay yeah? You’re okay with this? This is consensual and totally okay?’ She nodded and finally I pulled the bears out and one by one sprayed them with her perfume. I introduced her to the tiny one that shes never seen before and she asked what his name was. I said he comes to work with me sometimes (like she’d suggested) and asked her to name him. Anna looked at the label and said, ‘oh his name is Suki!’ I liked that a lot. She asked if Suki also wanted a spray which I did. I sprayed loooaaadsss and then after realised I’d kinda lost myself in the spraying and felt bad that I was wasting her perfume! I was so soaked up in the joy of it all for that minute. I put the bottle back on the table and said to her, ‘I know I’ve said this so many times and maybe you’ll think I’m only thanking you so you don’t get sick of me and leave me…’ (she laughed) ‘…but you know I really, I’m so thankful, it’s just the most biggest feeling inside me, this gratitude… I’m just I feel so lucky that I found you… and you know, I mean, I know it’s your job but you could do a really half assed job and still take the money but you know I really feel like you put a lot into this and I… well it means a lot to me, thank you.’ Anna said, ‘I know, I can feel your gratitude, you’re so very welcome, I really do enjoy working with you. You don’t have to keep thanking me but I do appreciate your gratitude.’
I put my shoes on. Put the bears in my bag then slowly turned to her and whispered, ‘it’s so hard to ask for things…’ she did an understanding face and said, ‘I know Lucy. Very very hard. You should be very proud of yourself. I am.’
We hugged and I told her it was so good to see her. She replied saying the same and I floated out the door.
I slept with my perfume drenched Luna that night and had the best nights sleep I’ve had in years. Solid, sound… woke up rested. And I have felt secure in our attachment and calm inside myself since. Smelling Suki at work helped ground me all day Wednesday. Every time I walk into my bedroom I smell Anna. It makes me smile because I imagine her reading my text and her smiling at my reaching out… rather than imagining her grimacing, she is glad to read my words. She gladly brought something from her house for me. I think I’m slowly learning that this attachment that I fear so much is actually the basis of it all… she isn’t fearful of it, she is encouraging it. I am not getting this all wrong, it is all going the way it’s meant to. And the gratitude fills me up.