Progress is Not Linear

Progress is not linear… and that is the point! It would be so shallow and delicate if we weren’t to go over it a thousand times. Like mending a hole in a sock. One stitch won’t be strong enough. So we go over and over to ensure the hole is closed. In therapy we repeat and retrace. We learn something new each time. We go back and forth retracing our steps to go deeper into the pain.

Over the past 4 weeks I’ve seriously contemplated suicide. I counted up my meds and googled to see how much is needed to kill a person. I considered all the ways I could die without being a burden on my family. But couldn’t come up with any idea that wouldn’t just hand this pain and grief over to my kids and husband. So I carried it inside me like a lead weight. Thinking about self harm every day. Tightening the bolts around my heart swearing I’d never let Linda in because that’s where I went wrong with Anna. I let her in and then she hurt me. But then I realised – this locking myself away is familiar, I’ve been here before. I had to protect myself from those who were meant to love me and care for me. And Anna has helped me learn how to open up and trust… and I know she’d never have chosen to leave. She taught me how to love with a trusting heart and let love in and the pain of losing her almost made me turn my back on that connectedness, turn my back on any future love. In noticing that my reflex to turn and run had kicked in, I began to lean into the pain.

The steps of progress I made with Anna deserve to be set in stone as I forge forwards with Linda. I don’t need to have them washed away like the tide along the shore as if it never happened. It did happen and it was life changing. And this grief has been life changing. The grief has been as powerful as the love. And though I’m able to go about my day now without the pain of the loss overwhelming me, it’s still there all the time. She’s everywhere. I still have multiple conversations with her in my mind every day.

Progress is not linear but we need to keep our eyes open and our minds aware. As we circle over the same issues we need to learn that this is familiar ground but it’s traveled on with new learning. So I am learning once again how to make a connection, form an attachment, let someone know me. And this time I’m doing it with a little more openness than before and more faith in my ability to make myself heard and to be understood.

I may feel like I’m going round in circles, but I’m viewing this familiar ground from a much higher vantage point than before.

A Session That Mirrors My Fragmented Mind

Wow… that was a lot!

Linda asked how I felt and I said I was very nervous again. She asked what I wanted to focus on today and I said, ‘shall we start with the nervousness?’ She nodded and I told her I’d been reflecting on the pre session nerves and anxiety yesterday and I got a bit muddled trying to explain it. I took a big deep break and said that didn’t have a nice clear, coherent, succinct paragraph in my mind but wanted to share my thoughts. She laughed and said, ‘you absolutely do not need a nice clear, coherent, succinct paragraph Lucy… just go for it.’ So I explained that I feel like my anxiety is linked to my abandonment fears. That Anna unintentionally triggered the abandonment pain by having to cancel session so often. I said, ‘I fully trust and believe that she cancelled for legitimate reasons and believed her when she said they were unavoidable you know, but that aside they did still impact me you know… and it’s hard for me to talk about this because there’s lots of noise… lots of different ideas about it in my head and uh… I can hear the critical voice saying the sessions shouldn’t mean so much to me and the problem is that I gave so much importance to each of the sessions when it’s only like one hour a week or whatever and it shouldn’t be such a big loss to me but it really is a big loss, the sessions are important to me, it is important.’ Linda had a furrowed brow and was nodding and agreeing. I continued to explain how painful it would be when Anna would cancel the sessions sometimes as short notice as on the day of the session and how disappointing and dysregulating that would be. I said, ‘paying for the session the day before gives me some sense of security but then there were a couple of times a few months ago when things really started to become challenging for Anna she actually had to refund me the payment so even that didn’t secure things, you know? And when I get the link through from you for the zoom session it feels connecting but then that could be cancelled… and I really do get that nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen to get in the way of the sessions but it’s this fear that it’s all just going to be taken away from me so that’s probably where the anxiety comes from.’

Linda said, ‘I’m listening to everything you’re telling me and I can hear how hard it felt when the sessions were cancelled and you know, we’ve not had very many sessions at all so there’s bound to be a big part of you that doesn’t trust that I’ll be there. You don’t know me that well yet, you don’t know if I’m just going to randomly cancel a session.’ I was nodding and thinking and said, ‘yeah and I can feel a pull to detach and not rely on you too much… it feels better to keep a distance. It took so long for me to trust Anna, like probably close to two years to fully trust her to the level I did and it’s my fault that I got so hurt by her leaving you know, there’s a very strong pull to make sure that doesn’t happen again and…’ Linda interrupted and said, ‘I just want to go back to you saying it was your fault that you got hurt can you elaborate with that?’ I said, ‘well if I hadn’t let her in it wouldn’t have hurt, it would have been like water off a duck’s back you know but I trusted her and it hurt!’ Linda had a really sympathetic expression on her face and said she understood and it made so much sense to her that I’d feel like that. She said she felt like there was a lot going on for me today and made an observation that I seem to moving quickly through things. I agreed and said that sometimes that happens when I have a session. It’s like there’s this flurry of many different things that want to be expressed or work on.

I explained, ‘Well, there is a lot going on inside me, it’s like a room of people. Way back at the start when Anna and I first started working together I drew a picture to help her understand what it’s like inside my mind…’ I cracked a joke about doing a Blue Peter style, ‘here’s one I made earlier’ reveal and said that it would probably help to show her the picture but my art folder is downstairs. I explained that the drawing shows a corridor with doors running down each side and it helped me explore lots of different things in my sessions but one thing we focused on was the idea that there were memories behind the doors or parts of me trapped at a certain age that were hidden behind the doors and they were separated and I didn’t have access to them. So a lot of the work we did was very slow, sometimes non verbal work trying to coax open the doors and I guess one by one a lot of them opened up and were sort of half open and not necessarily all worked on but then it’s like they all came out finally and that’s when she fucked off! So now it’s really noisy in there and I don’t know what to do with them all. It took me so long to trust her and I finally did and then she left me holding all this!’

Linda looked sad and said, ‘I can imagine that feels so abandoning and it sounds very busy and overwhelming in there, do you feel that they are all still out in the corridor screaming and shouting or maybe just a few, or one or two now?’ I loved that she was entertaining this analogy because it fits so perfectly with how I’m feeling. I said, ‘I think they were all out for a couple of weeks but I guess maybe some went back in their rooms and like there’s this teen… I’ve been feeling almost like regressed the past week or so, very teenagery feelings and there’s anger and frustration there and slammed doors and like ‘fuck her for leaving just when I felt I could trust her!’ that kind of thing you know and there’s…’ I paused and felt lots of different feelings come to the surface and then told her it was confusing because there’s lots of noise right now and one loud voice saying, ‘You’re gonna think I’m a lunatic if I tell you this…’ Linda smiled and said, ‘I absolutely will not think you’re a lunatic, just go for it Lucy!’ So I said, ‘right well around January/February time we did so much deep work with Four, you know the part of me that’s like well my four year old self but I still find it hard to own it so for now she’s still just Four. It took a lot of gentle patience from Anna to coax Four out and to begin with I didn’t want her anywhere near me but Anna welcomed her and I got to the point where I could imagine Four sitting on Anna’s lap and you know it took probably two years to get to that point where Four trusted her enough to come out and then Anna leaving her feels like my parents just turning their backs and walking away.’ I felt very present and connected to Linda as I explained this which is not how I usually feel when I talk about this stuff but I was aware of this safe feeling which was very grounding. ‘So she’s making a lot of noise, I’m aware of this constant crying inside me, constant… she only wanted Anna. I never knew how to show her any care and I always wanted to push her away but I could accept Anna loving her and I used to have this recurring vision of Four climbing up on Anna’s lap or being held by Anna and that would feel really comforting and now the image I have is Anna’s empty chair you know and it’s breaking her heart… but it’s not just Four that’s around, there are parts that think ‘let’s just get on with this’ and some parts that want to lie in the foetal position and be held,’ I noticed Linda do her really reassuring sweet smile she does sometimes when I talk about these vulnerable young feelings. I continued, ‘some parts want to tell you to fuck off and that they don’t believe anyone can be trusted and I was stupid to let Anna in and you know… lots of conflict.’

Linda said, ‘You know… what you’re talking about, I just want to say that I appreciate that this is.. woah I mean this is big, big stuff you know, it’s, these things are massive big things I really know that… and the corridor and all those doors and how you feel about them, that’s a lot, that’s a big deal and I’m really grateful to you for sharing it with me. You’re sharing your experience with me, your process and it’s big! I want to say that if you wanted to share them with me, your drawings that would be absolutely fine if you felt it would help you express how you’re feeling and you wanted to show me I’d be happy with that.’ That made me smile and I thanked her. I was aware of a part of me that felt like it was a private, special thing between me and Anna but I also feel like I would like to share with her. I talked about how I’ve packed these things away and packed away the Panda that I bought through Anna’s encouragement and how it hurts too much to look at it. I told Linda that when I look at the blue heart she gave me to help me feel more connected to her now feels meaningless because what am I connected to? Something that’s dead and gone and won’t come back? I am aware of a part of me that clings to the hope that I will eventually see Anna again at some point but I know that’s unlikely and it hurts too much. I explained that she knew I used to look at her photo to help me feel supported in the gaps but even that hurts too much now and so I’ve lost that too. I told Linda that I’ve lost so much more than just sessions.

I said, ‘this coming Tuesday it will be 4 weeks since the phone call. That’s the longest we’ve ever not talked.’ Linda said she had thought that would be the case, that we won’t have gone this long without talking. I said, ‘even when we had holidays it was only ever just under two weeks break. She would see me on the Saturday either side of her holiday. And when I went on holiday she would let me have phone calls or texts so I could stay connected to her… you know when the young parts were activated I’d find it really hard to believe that she would remember me, sometimes it even felt like I made her up and our sessions never happened. So the texts or calls, which were always very boundaried (which I loved that she did that for me) they helped ease the panic… but I’ve lost that too… and that’s’ what the blue heart crystal was you know like object permanence stuff. I remember one phone call during a holiday break I think, I told her it felt like all the doors had been flung open and I didn’t know what to do with all these really intense feelings that had burst out of them and Anna gently suggested that we ask everyone to go back in their rooms and pull their doors over until we’re able to meet again and then she can help me with them. That has really helped me even more recently, helped me to find a way to calm things down in my mind.’ I looked at Linda and she was smiling and nodding. She paused me here and asked how I was doing, asked what was coming up for me. I had my arms crossed and I had to really work at focusing in on my feelings. I said that I felt panicky and had a pain in my chest and tummy. She made an observation about how I am managing to talk about these things and sitting with the feelings. I did feel present.

There was a moment of quiet and then I felt a wave of grief. I told Linda, ‘Tuesdays are really hard because that’s the day she called me.’ She nodded. I continued, ‘I’ve been to her office the past few Tuesdays which I feel sounds a bit mad but it really helps me. I can’t express my emotions here you know there’s no privacy but when I go there I can fully cry or whatever I need… stare into space if I want to and I don’t care if anyone sees me or walks past the car, no one knows me there…’ Linda said it made sense. I said, ‘She said she would never leave me. I remember her saying it so many times. That unless ill health or death took her she wasn’t going anywhere and then that actually happened! It’s still there inside me it still hurts so much,’ Linda made that familiar compassionate sound and repeated back to me that it still hurts and it’s still very much there inside me. I then ranted a bit about how disappointing it is to have all of these things I had planned to talk about and never got around to. ‘So many things I still wanted to work on with her… unfinished sessions, sessions when I was sitting on the floor struggling to get the words out and she said she would hold it for me and there was no rush and we’d come back to it and now we never will! Anna knew me so well that there were things that I could say with just one sentence and she would totally get it. I just, I’m annoyed that I didn’t just go for it and cover everything with Anna. I shouldn’t have held back I should have just gone for it!’ Linda looked questioningly at me and said, ‘Can you find space for the notion that maybe you did make the most of the time you had with Anna? That in those 2 and a half years you worked on what you were ready to work on with her in the time that you had?’ I nodded and felt really sad and said, ‘I just wish I’d had more time. I thought I’d have years and years…’ I then said, ‘but I am really grateful that you are here… I’m really grateful for you and I also really wish she hadn’t left.’ Linda said, ‘I hear you and I really get that, I can feel that you’re grateful to have me here with you and I also feel your longing for Anna… it can absolutely be both of those things and a whole lot in between!’ I said (again) that Anna had always impressed the importance of going slowly. I told her about the time Anna talked about my little part and how small her feet are, ‘she’d say that we needed to take baby steps and that made me cry… with my head in my jumper.’ I rolled my eyes and shook my head and said, ‘I’m so sad that I couldn’t just express myself you know, struggled so much to cry openly with her and then the dam burst after she left and I couldn’t contain it anymore and cried so much with you and I just wish I could have done it with her!’ Linda pointed out that that was another understandably painful loss.

I said again that I felt like it sounded mad and she said, ‘I don’t think you sound mad and I don’t think you’re a lunatic, Lucy. The way I work is that if you were to say something to me that didn’t quite make sense to me or I couldn’t get my head around it I would say that.. I wouldn’t say, ‘that makes no sense’ but I would ask you to explain further. I’d say I wasn’t following you because you know it’s important that I understand you.’ That felt really reassuring and I said, ‘so does that mean everything I’ve said to you has made sense so far?’ she said, ‘Yes, absolutely so much sense Lucy, all of it.’ I said, ‘right, wow, okay that’s cool.’ She said I sounded surprised and I said, ‘I really think it’s important for me to hear you verbalise things like that because if you don’t share your experience of me then my inner critic goes wild filling in the blanks coming up with all sorts of things you might be thinking of me.’ She said that made sense and she was happy to regularly let me know what she was thinking.

I said, ‘wow I feel like I went off on a massive tangent I don’t know why I talked about all that…’ She said, ‘One thing I have noticed is that you do work very fast…’ she pondered, ‘is that the right wording Linda? Fast…?’ I made an hhmmm noise and she continued, ‘I don’t know if it’s because of all the work you did with Anna or if it’s something else but yeah… you move through from one thing to another. It’s like there’s just such a lot going on.’ I said, ‘yeah maybe that gives you an idea of what it’s like in here, it’s very busy, lots going on. I guess that’s the fragmented part of my experience.’ Linda asked, ‘Would it help to ask you at the start of the session whether you have one thing you want to focus on or if you want to do a broad ranging session where you cover lots of different things?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure I could know that at the start of a session, I don’t always know what I’m going to feel like through a session, but I really like you checking in with me through the session, I like when you check in with what’s going on in my body and slowing me down that way.’ She said that was good to know.

I then said I find it fascinating to think of the quote that says there’s a different version of us existing in the minds of everyone who knows us and I said that it really intrigues me to think about what she might think of me and then if Anna and her were to talk about me (which I know they won’t) then they might be surprised to hear each other’s opinions of me and Paul would have had a different opinion and then the version of me that I know is different still. We talked about that for a bit. Then Linda said that I was letting her in to my process a lot today. She said, ‘I’m interested about the fact that you’re sharing this with me today… you know…. like, why today?’ I had a think and then said, ‘I felt very connected to you last session and understood by you, maybe that’s made it feel safer to let you in. Made me want to go a little deeper with you?’ She looked really pleased about that and wanted to hear more. I told her that a couple of things in particular helped me feel the connection. ‘Firstly, you recapping at the end of the session about your understanding of why I appear to be giving an overview to you has silenced the inner critic… it was really great to hear that you understood me, you understood that I was sort of giving you my backstory before learning if I can trust you with the deeper stuff.’ When I worked with Paul I gave him the big overview and then if I revisited anything he’d say that we already covered that so I felt like I couldn’t go back to things more than once. In contrast, with Anna, she really encouraged me. She said even if I needed to talk about something a hundred times it was okay.’ Linda was nodding enthusiastically and smiling as if she liked hearing how well Anna handled it. I said that Anna would talk about it being like a spiral that we would circle round and round and maybe the same topic would be talked about many times but on a deeper or different level every time. I said, ‘Maybe I wanted to suss out if you were like Paul or Anna… so you don’t mind talking about things more than once?’ Linda said, ‘Not at all. Not. At. All!’ I said, ‘that’s really good to hear… my friend said it was like watching someone draw a picture… like if you watched me draw the corridors picture, you’d see me sketch the entire thing out first and only when you had the big picture would I then go back in and focus on details, shade, add highlights you know… deepen things after you’ve got the big picture.’ She liked that way of looking at it.

Then I continued, ‘and another thing you said that has stayed with me and I’ve reflected a lot on the past few days was that you’d read about the impact of joy on the effects of developmental trauma.’ She sort of finished this sentence with me and I continued, ‘I thought about how amazing it is actually that my system in some way tried to balance things out… you know my brother and I got on so well we used to have these intense hysterical moments, we had so much fun and my mum always hated it and sometimes she’d even take offense to us laughing and she’d tell us to stop laughing at her even if we weren’t at all.’ I looked at Linda at this point and she looked like she totally got what I was saying, ‘and sometimes she’d say she doesn’t have a sense of humour and she’d want us to calm down and go away. But yeah, Daniel and I laughed a lot through our childhood and then in high school I had this friend I would laugh with ‘til tears were streaming down our faces. I remember looking round thinking no one else is laughing like this, you know… it’s as if there were these intensely dark, lonely, awful times and then the polar opposite to that was this connected hilarious laughter as if my body knew how to balance things so that I wasn’t too badly damaged by what was happening at home…’ She said, ‘you know that kind of laughter which feels totally out of control, where you laugh so hard your belly hurts coz you’re using muscles you never knew you had and you don’t even know if you’re laughing or crying?’ I nodded and she went on, ‘I was thinking about this the other daym I maybe have a laugh like that maybe once a year and it’s cathartic, it feels cleansing and healing and I was wondering – when was the last time you laughed like that?’ I told her it was probably a few months ago on the phone to Daniel or maybe the last time he was here. I laugh like that with him a lot. I said, ‘and another thing that I was reflecting on about the developmental trauma stuff is that there is a lot of joy and laughter in this house and so even if I fuck up with my kids, maybe the fact that I laugh a lot with them, maybe that will help balance things out.’ Linda said, ‘yes and I remember you saying you laughed so much with Adam when you first met him and you still have a good laugh with him, I mean that’s a very special, powerful thing – worth it’s weight in gold don’t you think!?’ I agreed and said I feel really lucky in my relationship that we get on so well nearly 19 years on.

I said, ‘it reminds me of what I’ve read about the somatic processing of trauma, it feels like a very primal thing that type of laughing… I think it’s Peter Levine who talks about this… there are videos of him on youtube… one in particular he works with his young guy who experienced PTSD symptoms as a result of being in combat, Iraq or something and this guy has quite a pronounced twitch and Peter Levine talks about this being the body’s attempt to discharge the stress and trauma stored in it – that it is important for him to get to the point where he follows through with the reflex that his body is trying to process… the twitch is an unfinished response – whether it’s pushing or lashing out or screaming… he talks about animals in the wild and how they do that naturally. So he explains that if an animal is chased or attacked and it gets away from the predator then the animal will stomp or run or shake as a physical way of discharging the energy so it doesn’t get stored in the body and he talks about how humans aren’t as good at doing that and often after trauma we hold ourselves tight and still and tense so it ends up getting stored and comes out as body pains and mental health issues… anyway it interests me and I have a lot of pain in my body and I developed a twitch in my early teens… I’d planned on talking to Anna about it one day but never got around to it.’ There was more of a back and forth conversation than this continuous block of talking that I’ve described here. She was agreeing and responding to bits throughout it.

Linda said, ‘I just want to say, I’ve noticed that you are very dedicated to this work. When you say that you’ve been reflecting or preparing for a session I just want to say that hearing you say that really stands out to me, I don’t hear that sort of thing often… I mean when I go to my own therapy often I just sit down and talk I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to talk about and I don’t often hear it from clients that they’re spending this much time thinking about their sessions.’ I said, ‘It will probably be a sign of progress when I am able to just sit down without over preparing but right now this is where I’m at.’ She said, ‘But there is something very admirable about the preparation and reflection you do, you’re taking this work very seriously and I see that, you know?’ I said, ‘thank you for saying that, it’s really nice to hear actually. Anna said I gave more than a hundred percent to this work and it was a huge privilege to witness and walk with me on this journey… which you know, is lovely to hear… and I’d never have been able to take that compliment or kind observation in a few years ago I’d have deflected it immediately! I think this level of deep thinking and researching and reflecting is something I really value. I think that’s why I liked hearing you say you were reading about developmental trauma. I admire it. Anna asked me if she could use our work to help form a case study for her exam and I used to like that too… to think that she was reflecting and reading stuff that might impact me you know?’ Linda said, ‘Yeah I really get that. And actually, I don’t normally do this but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently and wondered how you would feel if I was to share some of the things I find if I think it might be helpful or relevant to you?’ I said I’d love that and I told her I was reading a really amazing article about developmental trauma that I’d thought about sharing with her but didn’t want to do it without asking and she told me to send the link to her. I explained that it was like reading me on a page… the emotional neglect, the dissociation, all of it… so I sent it to her just after the session. I’m really intrigued by all this, I never did anything like this with Anna and it feels interesting to be exploring a different version of ‘staying connected’ between sessions. (The article I’m referring to can be found here).

Around this time I said, ‘I know I dedicate a lot of my time each day to the therapy stuff and I know this is probably going to sound like a hyperbole but it really feels like this is my life’s work, this is what I’m meant to do… if all I manage through all of this work is to break the chain in some way or put up a protective wall between me and the kids so the impacts of my trauma don’t impact them in an acute way then it has all been worth it. Plus I’m in a lot less pain than I was when I started with Paul, although it’s very much like this (motioned up and down) and I’m really fascinated by the stuff I read, the mind and psychology – it all interests me.’

I said, ‘One good thing about working with someone new is that you are meeting me with fresh eyes now. You’re not as tentative or careful as Anna was because she had experienced a very different version of me and I guess she always held that version of me inside her. Anna was very cautious with me I think because when I started working with her I was really reactive and would self-harm between sessions because of things that had come up in sessions. I sensed her anxiety around that or her fear maybe, that she didn’t want to push me too far… and it felt loving, and caring, but also it sometimes felt like I wanted to tell her she didn’t need to handle me with kid gloves.’ We talked about how much has changed over the years.

I said, ‘so I actually had three dreams last night. I have very vivid dreams and last night I dreamt about all three of you… one dream about Paul, one about Anna and one about you.’ I laughed and so did she, she seemed interested in what they were about. I said, ‘in the dream about Paul he came to my house… he was standing there at the stairs and I was showing him all around my house and he’d just come from driving by my childhood homes and he told me he could sense my energy there… the dream about Anna, I bumped into her at the garden centre and we hugged and both cried and then we decided that it would be okay to text each other and so we were texting and she was putting kisses at the end of her messages which felt lovely. The dream about you we were having a phone session and Grace kept interrupting the session so you let me have an extra ten minutes at the end of the session which I was really grateful for and the you suddenly had to end the call when you realised your next client was waiting.’ I laughed and she smiled and I said, ‘I guess the dream is all about boundaries… haha… Paul coming to my actual house! Anyway… you know, also… you are all alive and present inside me. This relationship, these relationships have all been so important to me. It’s all about repainting myself. I said this already but I feel sort of regressed sometimes, this week I felt very teenagery and I was never allowed to be a teenager and I think a lot of this researching, reading, preparing and reflecting along with the sessions is an opportunity for me to receive or give myself the kind of attention and care that was lacking when I was a kid. Children need this very intense, caring focus and I didn’t have that. So I guess there are parts of me trying to constantly construct that around me. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.’

Bang on 50 minutes I said, ‘can I just ask, what days do you work?’ she said, ‘Monday to Saturday at the moment.’ And I said, ‘woah you work six days a week!’ and she said, ‘yes but I don’t have more than 4 clients a day and often don’t have as many as 4 and it was a different schedule before lockdown.’ I said, ‘at some point when things go back to some sort of normal we’ll need to talk about changing the Wednesday session because I’ll be working.’ She said that was fine and then asked me what I was doing this weekend. I laughed and asked what a weekend was and said, ‘do the weeks ever actually end..?’ I said we would probably do this new jigsaw I bought the kids and maybe go for a rainy walk to the river to see the fish. We said goodbye until Wednesday.

I feel really good about this work right now. I feel like Linda is making an effort to understand and reach me. I also feel like she is not only accepting what I say but also understanding it which feels amazing.

Fear of Abandonment

It’s that time of the week again… session tomorrow. I’m feeling in more of a routine with my sessions now – every Wednesday and every Saturday. 3 to 4 days apart. Which sometimes feels like not enough and so I count down to the day before the session when I can pay for it online and get the Zoom link emailed through. So if I’m experiencing massive post-session panic on a Wednesday evening, I have two more sleeps to wait until I can pay for my next session. For some reason that makes the wait a little more bearable!

I got the link through for tomorrow’s session earlier today and I’ve been reflecting on the feelings that come up for me when I see the email. It makes me smile. It settles something, calms something inside me. I turned off all my email notifications so I have to manually log in to my emails to check them and I do it periodically the day before a session. There’s an element of tension as I check and refresh a handful of times through the day until the little spiral spins and up pops the email. ‘Invitation to Zoom session tomorrow’. And relax.

One of my deepest wounds is abandonment within significant attachments. I remember reading recently that fear of abandonment is one of the most common trauma responses to emotional neglect and it completely makes sense to me. Emotional and psychological abuse and neglect impact the child’s sense of self so much that the child has no way to make sense of what’s happening other than to believe they are not worthy of any other treatment. ‘Of course I’ll be ignored, of course I won’t be seen, of course I’ll be silenced or belittled… I’m not worthy of anything else…’ rejected, neglected and abandoned in a million tiny ways every single day. They may or may not have turned their backs and left the room, they may or may not have left the child’s life. But the child’s emotions were abandoned in many silent, ignorable and screamingly obvious ways.

Unintentionally Anna triggered that abandonment wounding repeatedly through our time together because she had to cancel many sessions in our 2.5yrs together (I’d guess she cancelled around 20 sessions in total). It was always legitimate reasons. There were viruses, there were asthma complications (that I realise in hindsight), there were family emergencies, a car accident. I trust and believe fully that the time’s she cancelled our sessions she not only had no other choice but also she deeply regretted having to make that decision. She would always encourage my honesty when we were back together, she wanted me to tell her how it had felt to be let down by her and we would work together on repairing the rupture.

I remember a couple of occasions when the cancelled session had collided with very dark times in my life and the perfect storm had led to intense suicide isolation or self harm. She would fiercely sit with and work on that with me. She would ask for an uncensored account of how her cancelling the session had impacted me. With tears in her eyes she gave me authentic, heart felt apologies. She would never make me feel responsible for her emotional responses but she would openly share how connected she was to my distress. It was very powerful to walk through the triggers in real time hand in hand and to overcome my most feared thing with the person who’d caused the pain owning their part in it and never shaming or blaming me. It was empowering and healing.

All that being said, it also was at times retraumatising. There’s no denying that I could have done with more consistency and a more reliable attachment figure. When we were face to face. Anna was as ‘in it’ with me as she could have been. When we were in the room or on the phone she was consistently present and focused entirely on me. I couldn’t fault her there. She never moved her attention away from the focus being completely on my therapy. She never abandoned me emotionally. But attachment work needs regular, reliable contact and the breaks in contact did hurt me and they weakened the trust which I know is something that Anna regretted and wished she could change. That’s that notion cropping up again… that when adversity crops up you make it work for you – that the thing that gets in your way becomes the way… the breaks in contact became a way for us to work on healing some very deep rooted wounds. It hurt because it meant something… and even knowing what I know now, that she’d eventually leave me and cause the biggest grief I’ve ever experienced, I’d still choose to work with Anna. Because the work we did together has been worth it ten fold. However, I’m learning about myself that I’m aware that it’s important to hold the whole truth. That it was powerful healing work we did together and it also hurt me sometimes. That’s the balance of life. It can heal and it can hurt. It can be two steps forwards and it can be one step back.

I notice in the back of my mind tonight the questions… I wonder if Linda will cancel. I wonder if she’ll forget our session. I wonder if she’ll just not send the link. I expect abandonment, still. And therefore when the link is sent it feels a little safer to relax and trust that she’ll be there. But Anna had cancelled sessions sometimes a few hours before the session so really even a link sent the day before can’t be trusted. I’ve noticed that often my heart isn’t really in it until Linda’s face is on the screen. Then my body and heart and soul can believe she’s really going to be there. Maybe that explains the pre-session anxiety. The sheer panic I feel right up to the beginning of the session. I’m expecting abandonment right up to the moment of proof. I may bring this up in session tomorrow… providing it goes ahead 😉

The Antidote to Developmental Trauma is Joy

Session number 14 with Linda.

I started the session very activated and feeling stressed and not at all ready for a session. I explained that both kids had just kicked off moments before logging on because despite me preparing them that I was going to need time later for a video meeting, when the time arrived they both decided to have a meltdown about me ‘leaving them’ to go upstairs. I explained to Linda that through the lockdown we’ve spent a huge amount of concentrated time together and so now whenever I say I’m going to do something by myself they seem to get really unsettled. It’s created a sort of anxiety/dependency that was never there before and I’m going to need to work on it with them to ensure transition back to school and work is as stress free for them as possible. Also the anxiety is there for Adam as well. He’s always found it hard in the past when I’ve gone out and done things without him. He’s not controlling and possessive its more that he is very worried that he’s going to lose me. He reacts in a really pronounced way if I say I’m going out. I explained to Linda, ‘It happened just yesterday, I said I was going for a drive and he was like, ‘what, where are you going, why… what a waste of fuel…?’ and I asked him what emotional response he was feeling and he said panic… it triggers something in him like he thinks I’m never coming back, but it feels like I’m suffocating you know, I need to go out!’ Linda sort of reiterated this back to me and seemed interested in what I was saying about Adam. I told her that yesteray I ended up back at Anna’s office again. Sitting in my car crying. She made a sort of sympathetic noise. She asked me if there was anything I could do right now to help me feel calmer during the call to make the most of the session because I was still clearly so agitated and she said, ‘anything that you know works?… breathing…?’ I burst out laughing and we both said, ‘breathing’s always a good idea!’ It was a funny moment and in the end I said I just needed to talk through it.

We explored the sense of having no alone time at home. She said it must be really challenging to try to get in the right headspace for a session when that’s all going on around me. I talked about how I used to leave the house and drive to my sessions at least an hour before the start time but being at home there’s no privacy, it’s very hard to relax. Linda pointed out that I seemed really preoccupied with the energy left behind after the madness with the kids and the more I talked about it she noticed the angrier I got. I was explaining that I get very little time to myself and then it’s almost as if Adam resents the time I spend on my sessions because he doesn’t make a concerted effort to placate the kids in order for me to get the quiet I need. (Adam has told me he doesn’t feel like this and that he does his best to give me the space I need but that he finds the kids challenging).

I told Linda that about twenty minutes before the video call, Reuben had asked if they could go to the new sweet shop and just like he always does Adam immediately said no. This provoked the screaming and crying from Reuben… it’s a fairly common game that’s regularly played out. I said, ‘you know I’ve tried explaining to Adam that life is fucking hard for kids, they get to have hardly any control over anything in their lives, they just have to go along with whatever the adults say and to have this huge man looming over him saying ‘no’ to his requests must make him feel so frustrated and powerless like he doesn’t have any say in the matter… I’ve told Adam it’s really easy to let kids feel like they have more power you know, you could say yes to the sweets but only one. It’s about seeing the need for them to be little autonomous people and meeting them half way!’ Linda was nodding and smiling and agreeing. I sort of paused and said I wasn’t expecting the session to go down this rabbit hole and she suggested I trust the process… that this is where things are going today and that’s okay. She explained that sometimes whatever has just happened ‘in real time’ needs to be focused on and the childhood stuff will always be there for us to come back to. In the back of my mind I was wondering if she’d taken in what I said in the email I sent on Saturday but she didn’t bring it up until the end of the session.

I said that I felt like my perfectionism kicks in when we have these moments and I get really very annoyed with Adam for fucking up with the kids when I so desperately want him to be sensitive to their needs and attune to them. I find it hard to forgive him like I find it hard to let go of my own shortcomings. I hold us both to really high standards and just feel like we shouldn’t have even had kids if we weren’t prepared to work very hard on ourselves and purposefully break the chain and not pass this shit down. Linda said, ‘Hmm yeah you want to break the chain. Is there such a thing as a perfect parent do you think?’ I looked at her and perhaps had an expression on my face that looked unamused by the question because she then said, ‘Genuine question Lucy, is there such thing as a perfect parent? I really want to hear what you think about that.’ I said, ‘Obviously I know that no one is perfect. We are all human and we make mistakes… and I know Anna told me the key is in the repair but I just feel like you should really limit the amount of repairs you’re having to do. I think what I mean is, I have an idea of the kind of parent I want to be and it’s someone who has done the work on themselves, knows their personal triggers and doesn’t respond to them by reacting defensively or automatically with their kids, is aware of themselves and the impact they have on their kids… so when Adam or I react in the heat of the moment I really worry that we’re messing them up and they’re gonna be scarred for life.’ I can’t remember what she said here. She didn’t challenge me. I’m reflecting on this now and I get this sense that she is trying to be very careful with what she says to me. I remember this dynamic would play out with Anna too at times, especially in the early days. I like that she is being more sensitive in regard to what she says but also I don’t want her to say nothing at all! I do want some interaction and challenge around these things. But it’s like session number 14 so maybe that will come.

I said, ‘it annoys me that Adam has this knee jerk reaction to everything. He just says no to everything, whether it’s going somewhere, seeing someone, going on holiday, a weekend activity, a film, a take away… he says no initially every single time and then you have to sort of talk him round and let the idea sit with him and he’ll mull it over and then he’ll eventually come round. Afterwards he’ll say that I was right and he’s really glad we did it.’ Linda asked if I’d talked to him about it before and I said we had. She said, ‘I ask because I know what it’s like to live with an automatic no-er… personal experience with that one! Yup…’ she sort of gestured her head behind me to presumably the rest of her house and laughed and I laughed and I said, ‘yeah drives you fucking nuts doesn’t it!’ She said, ‘at least he’s consistent!’ and I agreed that I love that about him. That he is consistent, reliable and predictable. It feels so safe. I continued, ‘So anyway yeah I have talked to him but the thing is there are deep rooted reasons why he is like that you know, it’s a fear response, it’s an, ‘I don’t want to be taken out of my comfort zone,’ response or a need for control and order… so he knows he does it and he’s really open to feedback and talking about it but it’s gonna take a lot for him to change it. Years of therapy to unpick the deep reasons why he is like that and he just is not up for that, he’s come up with so many reasons why it can’t work out.’ Linda said, ‘the timing’s not right… he’s not ready to go to therapy?’ and I said, ‘yeah he blames money or that he doesn’t have the time… he’s not ready and I don’t know if he ever will be. I love him and I want him to have what I’ve experienced, you know, he deserves to get some relief from what he’s going through but well, I’ve talked to him about that a lot. Anna told me to back off she said I’ve planted many seeds and it has to come from him!’ Linda laughed.

I said, ‘the problem is, it impacts me massively. He only has me to talk to, he doesn’t have any friends, it’s been a slow and gradual narrowing down of his life so that it is just me now,’ I made a visual with my hands like a funnel going from wide at the top to narrow at the bottom. I continued, ‘It’s a big pressure resting on my shoulders. So if he is stressed or worried or needs to talk to someone – I am it, I’m the only one he has.’ Linda was reacting massively to this and saying, ‘wowww, oh wow yeah I mean that’s a huge amount of pressure for you.’ And she mirrored the visual with her hands. I told her, ‘I resent it because I go to therapy so that I don’t burden people in my life with my shit. The therapeutic relationship is a unique one and it really is necessary to have these strict boundaries around it, it’s not healthy to rely heavily on one person in your life. The thing is it’s not always been like this, he used to have loads of friends but slowly that’s all gone away and now he’s not even on speaking terms with his family so literally I’m the only person he speaks to.’ I then spent about half an hour telling her what life was like for us from when we met. That I’d never known anyone like him before. He was so lively and enthusiastic and funny and he knew so many people. He was gigging a lot and wherever we went we’d meet lots of people who knew him and who were clearly so pleased to see him. When we moved in together we were only 18/19 and the only ones out of all our friends who lived away from him so our place ended up being the place we all met up. We had loads of parties, nights drinking, movie nights, dinner parties… we had at least one friend over every day… and although I was really struggling with the aftermath of everything I’d experienced growing up, it was like an awakening… I’d never had so much fun. I mean I was actively suicidal at points and self harming frequently and cried a lot by myself and found intimacy with Adam really hard and would cry when we were intimate but it was like being given the freedom to be together and be me. I could eat what I wanted, do what I wanted, behave however I wanted.

Linda interjected and said, ‘This reminds me of something I read the other day… this is just a slight side and then you can continue… it was exploring the concept that the antidote to developmental trauma is joy. Just listening to this moment where you met Adam and your life really started to open up and it sounds like you just absolutely ran with it, you really made the most of it… SO yeah… joy… Is that something that resonates with you?’ I nodded and smiled and sort of inquisitively watched her as she explained more about the lack of joy in the child’s experience when they are living through trauma… I told her there was very little joy in my life apart from the fun my brother and I made together. In my head I was just thinking ‘YOU’RE READING ABOUT DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA!? Yay!’ I love love love that she managed to slip that into the session… she didn’t outwardly say ‘I’m reading up on this shit for you so I understand you better’ but it felt like an intentional piece of information that she wanted to give me. She wanted me to know that she’s taking this seriously and I really appreciated it. I felt a part of me relax a little when she was saying it… like ‘this feels safe’ or something. Also, I’ve been pondering this all evening… ‘the antidote to developmental trauma is joy’ and I looked it up online and there is a wealth of information about how joy and fun and playfulness soothes and heals trauma wounding. It made me feel so reassured to think about all the joy and playfulness my kids have on a daily basis… that maybe, even if things are hard and I accidentally traumatise them with my unhealed bits, the joy might help override some of that.

I talked about my parents refusing to drive me places and how suffocating it felt to be trapped where I was with no escape. I went from one memory to another giving examples of how powerless I was to my parents whims and that in an instant they could choose whether or not they’d give me what I needed. I told her of a time it completely broke me when everything came to a crescendo and I slammed the landline down while talking to my mum. Repeatedly hit it off the stand so hard that it shattered. I then broke down on my knees in front of my dad who turned and walked away from me. Rather than trying to meet my needs which he could easily have done. She said, ‘so much rage in you, understandably and then you actually collapsed and he still didn’t see you. They had all the power and control.’ I said, ‘I think that’s why I cant stand it when it seems that my kids feel powerless. I never want them to feel like that. It’s paralysing.’ During one of the anecdotes Linda paused me and asked me what was coming up for me and where I could feel it in my body. I don’t know how I’d been behaving I think maybe I’d crossed my arms and was looking out the window talking. I said I could feel something in my chest and pointed to it. I said it feels a bit like panic and it was tingling down my arms. I told her that sometimes happens when I feel like I’m oversharing and then there’s another emotion under the panic. She said she was intrigued by the feeling being in my heart. I said that’s where I feel young pain, attachment wound stuff… stuff to do with longing and an ache for childhood or grief for Anna. She was nodding and listening. We talked quite a bit more about memories from Adam and my first date, all the flats we lived in, some weird and some scary experiences we had in the dodgy places we lived and I said I didn’t know why told her half that stuff. She said it had been nice to hear more about me and nice to see me smile so much today.

I talked about how no one took our relationship seriously. My mum told me Adam would very quickly get sick of me and move on. She said, ‘the things you think you love about each other will become the things that drive you apart in the end.’ She said I didn’t know the first thing about love. And I recalled how my dad had laughed at me when I said we were engaged. Linda asked me what I thought he had found funny and I said, ‘he’d have been thinking I was a silly little girl and didn’t know what I was doing.’ They both turned their backs on me repeatedly, especially in times of need. There were nights I had nowhere to go, neither of them wanted me around. Nights we sat on the underground for hours just to have somewhere dry and warm to stay. Linda said, ‘Them turning their backs on you made you and Adam turn more towards each other. It strengthened what you had.’ I said, ‘yeah I’ve thought a lot about attachment and love and wondered about whether we’re only ever seeking to get our unmet attachment needs met… and now I’m growing and healing and changing I don’t need to be so intensely turned in to him but he is still the same, which triggers his anxiety.’

I felt like Linda was very attuned to me today. She was listening and engaging in what I was saying but I still felt like I talked a lot and at the end of the session I panicked and said, ‘aaah I’ve done it again I’ve talked and talked and we now only have 3 minutes to go!’ Linda said, ‘oh but I’ve really been so aware of this need you have to share all of this with me. There’s a very strong part of you that wants me to know these things about you. I’ve been holding awareness throughout the session of what you said in your email, that you feel like you share too much and don’t go deeply into things and then you’re left with the feelings. I really paid attention to that. But today I’m very aware of this pattern where you start talking about one thing and then you build up speed and then you want to share all this with me. I know there is the part of you that feels like you’re racing through lots of different subjects but I wonder if you can hold space for the part of you that feels she wants to share these things with me and that it’s some sort of overview you’re giving me. Sometimes that happens at the start of therapy, you’re giving me the backstory you talked about early on, so that I get to know you better. You feel like it’s important I know you… maybe it will be easier to share the deeper stuff when you feel that I know you better?’ I was actually leaning forwards watching her very carefully as she explained this and I said it really felt true actually and it will feel safer to go more deeply into things if she has a broader understanding of who I am and my life experiences. She asked if it felt okay that she’d said that and I said I was really pleased she’d clarified it with me. She actually ran over by 2 minutes explaining that to me and although 2 minutes is nothing, it felt nice that she was prioritising helping me understand how she felt about what I’m doing rather than prioritising the boundary of time. I told her that 50 minutes wasn’t long enough and she agreed. I’m going to talk about that at some point. That Anna was 60 minutes which often didn’t feel long enough and that 90 minutes was a good length of time… see what she says. Maybe if she’s reading up on attachment trauma she will have read that it’s quite challenging to do the work in tiny 50 minute blocks.

I left the session feeling really good and I’ve felt settled and regulated all day. I really like the idea of her holding awareness of the part of me that wants her to know me while also holding the part of me that feels over exposed. That feels so reassuring and like she understands me. It helped having her clarify that because I think one of the reasons I was so anxious after the information overload sessions was this fear that she would be thinking badly of me for doing it. Knowing she actually understands and thinks it’s useful is really reassuring. Like a friend described to me, it’s like I’m sketching a picture for her in pencil… making sure the whole thing is roughly filled in so she gets an idea of the whole image, then I will go back and add details and colours and shading… I’ll get to the deeper stuff but she has to have a good grasp of the bigger picture first. I like that.

If no one comes, it IS life or death.

Ponderings about preverbal developmental trauma stuff…

Before I had kids I read about different parenting styles – anything attachment/gentle/respectful/responsive. Even though I hadn’t explored my own experience with childhood trauma much I knew in my heart there had to be a better way to parent.

My mum wasn’t responsive to any of my emotional needs but she became a whole other level of inaccessible at night time. It was known that you just did not wake my mum up. I clearly remember not being allowed to go to my her at night no matter what happened. I’ve blogged before about my memories of crawling in her room and secretly sleeping under her side of the bed when I had nightmares. I may not remember what nights were like as a baby but I know she wouldn’t have been able to meet my needs even then. I do have a strange half memory of a room and bars and a broken mobile playing Brahms lullaby and a closed door and the muffled noises on the other side of the door and no one coming. I’ve been told that even in my first 48 hours of life she refused to give me what I needed. She wouldn’t have me with her because she needed to rest and she didn’t want me to be fed milk without her so I was fed distilled water by my dad until she was ready to see me. I know she left me to cry.

I had a number of friends who had babies around the same time I had mine. There have been many different parenting opinions discussed over the years. I’ve got friends who sleep trained their babies. Infuriated by the baby’s constant need to be held or fed they desired to leave them. They’d tell me they just left them to ‘cry it out’ and eventually they ‘learned’ to sleep through the night. I witnessed it a couple of times. One friend even told me she used eat plus so she could get a good night sleep and not hear her baby crying. ‘She’s fine, shes has everything she needs. She’s just got into a bad habit and needs to learn to stay asleep.’

It doesn’t work that way! Babies can’t be taught how to self soothe by being abandoned. What happens is the baby’s flight/fight response kicks in when they realise no one is coming and their reptilian brain tells them, ‘This is catastrophic, my life source is not coming back. Stop crying, everyone’s dead and if you keep making noise the sabertoothed tiger will kill you too!’ Their system shuts down. Sometimes these babies become really docile and compliant. Seemingly ‘good babies’. It’s because they’re in survival mode. They know their cries won’t be answered and I’m fact they know that if they cry ‘too much’ then their caregiver will leave them alone, close the door and not come back until they’ve been quiet enough for long enough.

This is just one of many examples of how developmental trauma starts to take grip before we even lay down our sense-making memories that can be communicated in words or pictures. This is somatic. Pre-verbal. So when we’re sitting in the therapist’s office saying, ‘I can’t put it into words, I just feel like I’m dying, the need is so massive, it’s bigger than me…’ You are experiencing an emotional flashback – feeling the unmet needs of your tiny infant part that was neglected and ignored as s/he cried out for milk and comfort. And it was bigger than you and it did feel like you were dying. It is life or death. You need the warmth and protection of your caregiver. Without it, you will die.

This isn’t about shaming people. Being a new parent is the most overwhelming experience, especially if you’ve experienced childhood trauma yourself. I had post natal depression, I know how hard it can be. There were times I wanted to run away. We still don’t get a full night sleep and my kids are 8 and 4. It’s exhausting! We’re constantly up and down in the evening and through the night and sometimes it feels like it’s going to break me. But I committed to not passing this pain on. I will not bring a life into the world who is defenceless and depends on me, to then turn my back. Even if I’m crying silently on the floor beside them holding their tiny hand, I’m not leaving that room until they feel secure enough for me to leave.

That’s what it’s all about… ‘you’re only as needy as your unmet needs’… meet the child’s needs and they will, in time, develop and change and grow past the need. Those of us sitting in the therapy room trying to heal these wordless developmental traumas didn’t have these very basic, primal, life or death needs met and so guess what… we still need them to be met. Being a parent has given me a moment by moment window into all of this. I see it playing out in front of me. And it’s far easier to meet the baby needs as they developmentally come up than to restore the adult carrying the heavy weight of the motherwound.

I Wish You Could See Yourself the Way I See You

It’s so complicated, grieving the loss of your therapist. It’s not like ‘normal grief’ – I didn’t get a funeral where I could process and mourn with a group of people who understood my loss. I didn’t get to sit on a bench and sob into tissues surrounded by people who shared my pain. I didn’t get to take time off work for bereavement. There was no simple way to communicate the grief to work acquaintances so that they would know what I’m going through without knowing too much about me. I didn’t receive cards with condolences and kind words about all the beauty in the person that I’ve lost. Shared memories and funny anecdotes. There’s none of that. No one else even knew she existed. I can’t burst into tears while putting the bins out, knowing that my neighbours had heard the news and would understand… No one heard because it’s a secret part of my life that no one knows about. I didn’t get to tell my friends, ‘I feel like a piece of me has died with her… now that she’s gone.’ To share my loss would mean sharing my trauma history. I can’t even summarise and say that a close person to me has died… people expect more details. And what does she equate to..? A close family friend? A distant relative..? Why is no one else mourning then..? It’s not that simple. If I was to say, ‘my therapist stopped working with me,’ I imagine a chorus of, ‘it’s not like your mother died,’ streaming back at me. People wouldn’t understand. Even if they themselves had ‘had counselling’… it’s not the same… unless you’ve experienced deep attachment wounds and have formed a loving connection with a long term therapist, you won’t understand this loss. I know because a few years ago I wouldn’t have understood. So there is no outward grieving. This all has to happen in secret.

So this community became my church. I held the funeral on this page and people who deeply relate came and mourned with me, shared their heartfelt sentiments. Told me of the ways our work had touched them. I haven’t been held in the arms of a loved one while I broke my heart crying over this loss. I’ve done it by myself. Alone and in the written word.

It’s not like ‘normal grief’ – it’s worse. It’s mixed up with all of the pain from all of my wounding. It’s a far greater loss than if my mum died. That would be no real loss at all. She doesn’t play a role in my life and I wouldn’t notice her absence. Anna actively loved me. And she made my life better… each session brought me a little more relief and a little deeper understanding. I miss sitting with someone who really knows me. I miss being with someone who unconditionally cares for me. I couldn’t feel it half the time when I was sitting right in front of her but I feel it now. Fucking disorganised attachment ruining the moments I had what I needed. The fucking wall between us… and now that she’s gone there is no wall! Now she’s ‘abandoned’ me I can feel it all… of course I can! I want to go back in time with what I know now. Ask for the hugs and holding hands. Tell her I love her no matter what she says back. Look her in the eyes when I talk to her and feel her presence. I can’t believe I’m never going to see her again.

‘I wish you could see yourself the way I see you, Lucy.’ Ohhh Anna and now there’s no one in my life who sees me that way. It’s taking all of my strength and all of my love for her to not scroll down my messages and send her a text. But I know it would put her in a really difficult position. I just want to tell her I still think about her every day and that I want to find a way to make it work again… the restrictions are easing all around me but she has to stay locked away. I vividly remember her sitting in front of me tapping the table between us and saying, ‘touch wood I have no intention of going anywhere, Lucy! I’m here until you don’t need me anymore… unless sickness or death separates us. I’m not going to abandon you.’ She would never have chosen to end things this way. It wasn’t what either of us wanted. Who could have known what was coming. If it wasn’t for this virus, I’d still have her. It’s because of the lockdown she got so sick and because of the restrictions she had no choice but to close her practice. I keep imagining one day in the future her getting in touch with me to say she’s started up again… but it wouldn’t be the same. It feels like torture that I can’t process this with her. Absolute torture.

Tip of the Iceberg

If childhood defines you
Can it ever be behind you?

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with my brother. I sent him this message, ‘I just wanted to say that despite what happened last week being difficult and misattuned that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to ask how I’m doing. I’m going through the worst grief I’ve ever felt and I’ve never walked this road before, it’s really hard and I feel like our interaction drove us further apart. I’d love if you text to see how I am or how things are going with Linda. I opened up to you and it feels like you’re punishing me by withholding care which I know won’t be your intention. I wanted to share how I’m feeling about it. I was painfully honest with you last week and it blew up in my face, now I have less from you than I did before.’ And then we spoke on the phone. He told me he felt like he couldn’t win, that the help he’d offered me had been thrown back in his face. I asked him to please let his defensiveness stand to one side and let this conversation be about understanding me. I said, ‘please let your loving child heart see my grieving child heart,’ I reminded him how much we love each other and how much we’ve been through together. I asked him, ‘do you feel you’re able to really see and feel my pain?’ he was silent for longer than imaginable on a phone call and then said he wasn’t sure. I know he isn’t. I’m not angry or resentful about that. I had never experienced this level of pain before and so I know he hasn’t either. Before the past couple of weeks I could only have imagined this kind of grief and before working so deeply with Anna I wouldn’t have felt it this deeply, I wasn’t capable. I really believe you can’t know or empathise with the pain a person is in until you’ve been to the depths of it yourself and he is very detached and still in the early stages of his own therapy. I could tell in his voice he didn’t know how to respond to me. I told him, ‘please don’t feel you need to offer solutions or fix me… there is nothing to fix with grief. It makes perfect sense that I would feel like this. This pain needs to be felt and all I ask of you is that you sit with me in it and love me through it… all I ask of anyone who loves me is that they don’t turn their backs on me through this… it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and I don’t know how to reach out so please be the one to reach out to me… can you do that?’ he said he would try. We spoke for nearly two hours and I cried through a lot of it. We definitely moved forwards but there’s still a big disparity between our understanding of things that’s creating distance.

I feel like this experience of losing Anna has opened a portal to a space in the universe inside myself that I never knew existed. My maternal grandpa died when I was 20 and since then I have lost 7 more very close and special relatives and one friend who had just turned thirty. Four of my relatives were too young when they died… two of them were sudden deaths that no one could have predicted. I’ve also lost beloved pets which is a pure and all encompassing grief. I know grief. I have cried and hurt. And it’s different for everyone. So for me, this grief, losing Anna… nothing compares. I miss my aunt who died in her 50’s of cancer. I cried for my uncle who had a sudden aneurysm – I think of him often and there are hundreds of songs that remind me of him. What I wouldn’t give to sit with my paternal grandmother and talk to her, ask her to share all her amazing housekeeping secrets… thank her for her box of handwritten recipes and her jewellery I inherited. I wish my kids had met these people. Each of them have a permanent special place in my heart… but nothing has hurt like this. Losing Anna has ripped my heart open. She played such a huge role in my life, I’ve lost so much more than just the person I lost. I told my husband that I feel like I’m a walking bubble of emotion right now. Apparently we are made up of 60% water… I feel like the grief has turned that water to tears. Grief infused tears filling me right up, sloshing around when I walk or roll over in bed, ebbing and flowing like a tide inside my body when I catch myself laughing then feel the tears well up. I’m carrying it around with me everywhere. I wake up with it. I go to sleep with it. It’s everywhere. Before losing Anna I didn’t know this existed.

My session today was intense… again. I told her I’d found our last session really difficult, it had brought up a lot of stuff and I was completely wiped out when we’d ended the call. I told her I slept straight after the session and the few days after had felt full of heavy emotions. I told her I’d been sleeping a lot recently. I said, ‘yesterday was a really griefy day. I think the grief I’m feeling about Anna is mixed in with grief from my childhood…’ I told her that I drove past my childhood house yesterday, the one where I was most unhappy… which stirred up a lot of feelings. I sat in the car crying for an hour. Linda asked me if I knew what drew me to the place I was most unhappy and what the crying was about. I can’t for the life of me remember what I said to her. I jumped around from one subject to the other, as another anecdote popped into my mind I would share it then another and another, finding loose connections between each one. I talked about very early memories of being responsible for my family, responsible for my mothers emotional wellbeing. I talked about my parents splitting up and people being shocked and upset. My neighbour coming to the door and crying when I answered saying she just couldn’t believe it, that my parents were great together and it was breaking her heart that he’d left. I had become a walking robot by then. I didn’t feel. No one knew what it was really like in our house.

I talked about feeling like my experience of the family was so different to what people on the outside saw… I said, ‘we were held up as this perfect family, no one knew what it was like.’ Linda later revisited that statement and asked me who described us as the perfect family. I said, ‘probably my mum… she’d describe herself as a natural mother, she was loved by everyone, she had this persona… so there was this version of life that we were told to believe, like brainwashed and then I’d be left thinking, ‘why do I feel so awful then?’ you know? It must be me… I’m the problem… it’s me who is the problem.’ After exploring this a bit more Linda asked me if I could remember any time in my childhood when I knew that it wasn’t me… she said, ‘kids are really intuitive, especially young kids, you knew deep inside that there was nothing wrong with you, that it was your mum who was wrong…’ she prefaced that by saying ‘hit this one out the ballpark if it doesn’t sit right with you’ and afterwards I said, ‘I wish that were true, I wish I could say that I knew it wasn’t me but that doesn’t feel like how it was just now… were talking day in day out insidious, covert, subtle brainwashing… being made to believe her truth over mine.’ I told her about the time when I was 14 and I spoke to my guidance teacher and he’d said to me that the way my mum was treating me wasn’t right. I started thinking more deeply about my experiences and questioning what I was being told. I told her about them finally taking me to a psychologist and how she never took me back. That even with everything I’d told them, they still didn’t protect me from her.

Linda talked about the incongruence of feeling something to be true and being told it’s something else. I said I was feeling weird talking about it all and then skipped on to talking about something else. She went back to check in and asked me what I was feeling in my body, where in my body. I said I was shaking all over right inside my bones, down my arms and legs, in my chest and tummy… like I did the day I flipped my car over and was taken in an ambulance on a stretcher. The shaking. Like shock vibrating under the surface of my skin. She said, ‘your body knows it wasn’t right… even as a small child, you didn’t have the words but you knew.’ I’m reflecting on this and I can see it’s moments like this where I need something deeper than this, at the very least I need to process this in the room with someone but more than that I need someone who can help me take these somatic experiences further. My body is trying to work something through by shaking like that.

I told Linda I’d been thinking about my analogy of the house on fire. I said I’d been talking to my friend yesterday about it all and that she’d sent me a song with the lyrics, ‘But if childhood defines you, Can it ever be behind you?’ (I’ll include the whole song at the end because it’s totally spot on and amazing that she knew it would resonate). I then told Linda about ten individual anecdotes from various years of my childhood – the time when i was 4 years old and intentionally left behind, a time I was blamed for something very serious that clearly wasn’t me, the times my mum told me she never wanted me.

I jumped to another story, ‘I remember when this case was televised on the news about a couple who had murdered their toddler and my friend saying how disgusted she was to watch the footage of the couple walking to court holding hands… the idea that these people were capable of any kind of intimacy and affection when they had committed such a heartless crime… they’d tortured that poor baby. And I remember feeling the same and then realising that’s what I had felt through my childhood, this disgusting, shameful, confused feeling when I would watch my mum being overtly sexual with my dad or gentle and affectionate with my brother while she also made it glaringly obvious she couldn’t stand being near me. Such a clear message that it was me who was unlovable. She would stand up and walk away if I sat next to her. She would leave the room if I walked in. She would physically push me away when I went to hug her and I remember her telling me when I was a young teen that I wanted to much, I was too much, she’d tell me I’d never meet anyone who’d want as many hugs as I did…’ Linda asked me if that happened a lot, being told I was too much. I said, ‘yeah… all the time, but I know that was her internal experience of herself, being too much… but yeah, I received that message loud and clear.’

Another memory I shared was when I was 12 years old and my beautiful cat, my best friend who I told all my secrets, became very ill. I nursed him for months and then he became too ill. My mum couldn’t handle it so she drove me to the vet and I carried him in and held him as they shaved and injected him. I sat with him and stroked and loved him as he died. Then afterwards I helped my mum process her pain and guilt and grief. My arm round her shoulders as she sobbed. I kept my crying to the middle of the night silently under the covers. Linda stayed with that for a while talking about how heartbreaking it was but I kept repeating, ‘it’s not that bad, it was so long ago…’ Another memory I shared was the time I went to my doctor at 14 to talk about the self-harm and he said, ‘if you’re trying to kill yourself you’re cutting the wrong way.’ He told me I was selfish and that my mother was going through a painful divorce and I was adding to her problems. She shuffled in her seat and exhaled loudly at that one. Told me it was shocking. I shrugged and said it was the 90’s and maybe he had no experience of it back then. She apologised on his behalf and said, ‘that is the exact opposite way to respond to someone talking about their self-harm!’

I skipped again, to present day. I told Linda I really struggled to believe what everyone’s telling me that my kids are secure and well adjusted. I said, ‘I can see they’ve been affected by the lockdown and by my struggles, I can see they know something is up with me but kids don’t just walk up to their mum and say, ‘hey you seem really emotionally distant and I don’t feel connected to you,’ instead it crops up in weird behaviour changes, unsettled nights, volatile emotions, squabbling… I can see they are impacted and I guess it just feels really confusing to me because how do I know if this is what’s gonna fuck them up… how do I know exactly what fucked me up? If they are well adjusted and resilient enough to deal with me being unhinged for a few months then what the fuck happened to me to make me have so many deep routed issues… how bad was it? How poorly attuned was she? It’s like my whole childhood was a lie… or I’m finally listening to what I always knew.’

There’s a lot I can’t remember about the session. We talked about the intergenerational trauma running through my family. Generations of alcohol abuse, infidelities, emotional instability, toxic dynamics, the perfect storm that resulted in me. Linda didn’t say much. I felt her presence, she was responding and she was actively listening but I guess she doesn’t know me well enough yet to go too deeply into things. I told her I was embarrassed and this was like verbal diarrhea like in the first few sessions we worked together and she laughed and said, ‘that is not my experience of you at all Lucy, not at all.’ That felt nice. I want to hear more from her actually… I need to slow down.

At one point Linda said, ‘I’m really struck by the fact that it’s all right there on the surface for you, all of these very painful stories are right there and they are just as powerful and energised as they were when they happened.’ She had a caring expression on her face and I told her that’s exactly how it feels and I want it to not be like that anymore. I told her it feels like I’m just scratching the surface and all these things will need to be talked about again but in more detail and she agreed enthusiastically.

We had a couple of minutes to go and there was a bit of silence and she looked away for a bit mid sentence then told me she was appalled by some of the things I told her that had happened to me. She said, ‘I know how any child would be able to make sense of any of that.’ I said I hadn’t made sense of it and that’s why its still alive inside me. She said she understood that and there was space here for me to try and make sense of it all now.

I came off the call feeling really dissociated again and laid my head down for twenty minutes then sat up and emailed Linda the following message.

Hi, I just wanted to get this written down in real time. I need to remember to go slowly Linda. There’s this massive kickback I get when I over share and I can’t believe I’ve not learned that about myself yet. I jump around from one traumatic memory to the next sharing multiple events that had a deep impact then I invalidate my experience by telling myself it wasn’t that bad. While I verbally disclose only the tip of all those icebergs, under the surface I feel the weight of what’s beneath every single one of them. Massive amounts of shame and pain filling me up. It’s too much for me to hold by myself after the session which I think is why I then feel the need to sleep – the big feelings plus the thoughts in my head telling me I shouldn’t have shared so much with you is overwhelming. I know it’s my job to be responsible for myself but please can you help me remember in the session to stick with one big thing at a time. I get carried away and I think the pain of it all makes me move quickly. Please could you encourage me to look deeply at one subject and not expose multiple things all at once. It leaves me feeling very vulnerable. Also it makes me reluctant to revisit any of the things I’ve disclosed because I don’t want you to think I’m repetitive. I just want to say this now because there’s a chance I’ll forget that this came up for me by the time I next speak to you. Basically I need to remember to go slow. Speak to you about it on Wed. Thanks, Lucy.

The song…

The Valley by Ethan Gruska
I’m driving through the valley
My whole childhood was here
Early memories of my family
Mom and Dad were still together
For the first couple years
I remember it just barely
I never really cared
And I still don’t, to tell the truth
But if childhood defines you
Can it ever be behind you?
Hmm
At the house at the end of the alley
My first love, she lived in there
It’s where I kept disappearing
She was all I cared about
For two and a half years
Now I remember her so vaguely
I know I broke her heart
But she broke mine equally too
If it’s heartbreak that defines me
Can it ever be behind me?
Hmm hmm hmm hmmmm
Please…
And the years go by like a close race
Headed for the finish line
Looking back in the rearview mirror
Holding on for dear life
Like how I’m layin’ in bed
Lookin’ into the eyes of my future wife
Thinking it’s family that defines me
I can’t help if they remind me
Of the fear that can be blinding
That history repeats itself in me
Oh, hmm

House in Flames

Firstly I thanked Linda for the previous session. I specifically thanked her for being open to my feedback and allowing space for it all to be discussed. She said it was fine and good that we talk about it all and she said it’s important as we settle into working together that we continue to talk like that. I said I was really pleased about that and explained that when I worked with Paul I very quickly started to feel the need to talk about the relationship but didn’t feel like that was allowed. He would often say I was pushing him beyond his capabilities or his experience and it meant that I felt ashamed like there was something wrong with me for feeling the need to talk about it. Linda said that it’s often not important how long a person has been a therapist for or what experience that have, the important thing is for the therapist to remember that every client is completely different and they need to adapt to that person sitting in front of them. I said, ‘yeah I’m really glad you’re saying that. In sessions I would bring something to Paul and he would start talking about techniques and it really annoyed me, it felt patronising like as if I could just magically cure like 25 years of issues by doing one or two easy things. I did feel like Paul cared a lot about me but he was rigid in his beliefs, the CBT got in the way to be honest and I told him that. I really needed to talk about stuff from my past and he would tolerate it a little but then he would say that he didn’t believe analysis of the past was helpful, he’d say people spend thousands of pounds analysing their childhood over years and years and it’s important to be present and to live in the moment. Whereas Anna was very much like, you need to talk about this, you’ve kept it inside all your life which was helpful because I had kind of pushed it all down thinking I was being self obsessed or something… and this relates to us because in the first block of session we had when you said you were used to working short term with clients and that you tend to work in short blocks of 6 to 8 sessions it reminded me of Paul… and I was worried that you would agree with him, that I shouldn’t dwell on the past.’ Linda said, ‘you’ll know this already but it’s been widely written about that the relationship is very important in therapy.’ I said, ‘my experience of therapy is that it is the single most important thing about the whole therapy process… the relationship.’ Linda smiled and nodded and continued, ‘and within that relationship, looking at exactly what the client specifically needs is really important… for you, your childhood is still very much alive inside you and so that’s where the focus should be.’ I said, ‘I think that’s what the whole of the last session was really about… checking that you were okay with that… you know that you’re okay with me talking about my childhood and you’re prepared to invest in the relationship.’ She agreed.

We talked a little about the way that Paul broke boundaries with me and how even though they were minor boundaries (such as letting sessions run on sometimes more than 40 minutes past what I’d paid and arranged for), it triggered in me this sense of uncertainty and hypervigilance, that I was never able to fully relax and trust and feel safe in the relationship. It reminded me on a physical, unspoken level, of what life was like with my parents… this consistent inconsistency that I’d told Linda of before and she brought up again that it had stuck in her mind.

I then said I wasn’t sure what I wanted to talk about today and that the familiar anxiety about finding the perfect thing to talk about was there as always. I said, ‘I’m feeling a bit better today, you know all the things in my life don’t feel as out of control as they felt on Saturday.’ Linda said, ‘that’s good to hear, you said that you felt all the areas of your life were crumbling, is that not what it feels like today?’ I said, ‘I think it’s just that I haven’t been spending time looking at them recently so they’re not in the forefront of my mind… so I’m still struggling to feel close to Grace, the house is a tip, Adam’s annoying me so much I want to leave him sometimes and I’m really anxious about work and just want to quit. I guess… I just feel a really strong desire to walk away from it all, it’s not that it’s not all still there it just got too much for me and so I sort of left it all.’ Linda said, ‘is that a familiar pattern for you?’ I nodded.

I said my dad had visited yesterday and the visit was awkward. Linda asked if it was awkward physically or emotionally and I said, ‘I don’t know it’s just awkward and I’m on edge in case someone says something that’s going to torment the kids later about the virus or deaths or whatever and my dad can’t engage emotionally and if you ever talk about anything emotionally difficult, he is emotionally distant. Always has been. Memories from childhood, he was just like vacant. He could be in the room with me and I wouldn’t even remember. You’d have a full conversation with him and at the end you’d realise he wasn’t listening or he’d say he wasn’t listening… or he’d go off and read in the bedroom and ignore us all day.’

I continued, ‘I hate that I can be like that, I don’t want to be like that. I really hate it when I notice that I behave anything like either of them… and I take myself off to type or think or rest and sometimes I drift off and don’t listen… I do try to let the kids know what’s happening and not just wander off. I’ll tell them I’m working or whatever and reconnect with them later but it’s not enough.’ Linda said, ‘I wonder if those reconnecting moments are actually the most important bit though, they’re the sense making parts of the day… that’s what you lacked growing up.’ I said that everyone keeps telling me that but it doesn’t really feel like it makes up for it.

I said, ‘My parents always leaned on me emotionally. It made me feel…’ I pulled a face and then continued, ‘but they’ve never been able to be there for me you know so there’s this imbalance…’ Linda interrupted and said, ‘can we just go back to that, what came up for you then?’ I said, ‘um… it just feels… it’s just yucky and gross and… uhhh yuck! Like I don’t want to be that for them I just want them to be strong and stable and… my parents! You know’?’ Linda nodded and said, ‘yeah I thought that was it I just wanted to make sure.’ Linda said she could tell it makes me feel very uncomfortable just to even talk about it.

I said, ‘With any of this, family life… whatever… I get very overwhelmed then I just leave.’ Linda said, ‘you leave physically?’ I said, ‘yeah or mentally/emotionally I just leave…’ Linda asked if that happens a lot and I said yes depending on what’s going on in my life. She asked if it’s always happened and I told her I don’t remember ever not having this very vivid inner world and an ability to stop being out here and to escape inside. Linda said, ‘Okay, this feels important, are you alright if we stay with this for a bit? Talk about it and explore how it might play out here between us? Did you ever talk about it in great depth with Anna?’ I was nodding.

I said, ‘It happened throughout therapy with Anna and then there was this one session about a year ago where I said something about feeling dissociative and Anna jumped on that and we talked in great detail about it in that session and she was saying that it happens a lot in the therapy room and I said to her, ‘why haven’t you brought it up before?’ and she said she was waiting for me to bring it up… I was like ‘Anna! Fuck sake, we could have been working on it all this time!’ and she said, ‘but I could have brought it up a year ago and unintentionally triggered a huge shame response in you and you’d have been out that door, it needed to come from you,’ you know we talked about the need to go slowly at the pace set by the client.’ Linda was nodding and smiling and asked how it may come up for me in session with her. I said, ‘over time, as you get to know me, it will become fairly obvious when it happens. I’ll be unable to continue whatever I was talking about, I say uhhh a lot, I say that I feel spacey or weird or sick or foggy or I say ‘I don’t know’ a lot.’ Linda said, ‘ah yeah I’ve heard you say you feel spacey before, okay and are there any particular times you’re aware it comes up?’ I said, ‘It happens a lot when I talk about my mum…’ she said, ‘right hmmm,’ with a sombre tone and I continued, ‘if I feel shame or any strong emotions, the fog rolls in… sometimes I’m aware of it and other times I don’t have the awareness.’

Linda asked, ‘What would be helpful for us to do when it happens? Would it be helpful for me to bring it up, to ask what’s going on for you? Coz that might not be what’s happening, it could be a number of other things… something in the house has distracted you or you’re thinking about what you’re going to say… how would it feel if I was to ask you?’ I immediately said, ‘I’d like that.’ I was thinking about how validating that feels, like truly being seen… when they gently name what they see. I said, ‘I don’t really know what the right thing to do is when I get into that space. I think it’s part of the slowing down thing… it happens maybe when my system feels the need to slow down… so maybe looking at what we were talking about just prior or when it happened would help.’ I told her about the session when I told Anna how frustrating it is because it’s like I can see the whole road ahead of me and then this thick fog goes down. Anna asked me if it was a protective fog and I said it felt like that so she asked what we do in the fog… basically we sat it out together, in safety, and that felt so nice… to experience it with someone, not by myself.’ Linda was listening and nodding… I feel like I write that a lot, she does contribute and talk but there has been a lot of her listening while I talk lately. I guess she’s getting to know me.

Linda asked, ‘Does it impact your daily life a lot?’ and I laughed and said, ‘yup! It keeps me separate from people and means that I miss things… Adam said I’ve always been a daydreamer, he knows I have a vivid imagination and I live in my head a lot… we talked about it once in a kind of light way and he said I’ve just always been like that and he loves me anyway kind of thing.’ She said, ‘oh right, wow, has it always been like that… do you remember periods in your life where it wasn’t a problem?’ I said, ‘When I feel happy or settled in the present moment then it’s not there and that can last days, weeks. When I’m stressed and overwhelmed or upset it’s there on and off all the time.’

Somehow we got onto the subject of me stressing about fucking the kids up… again. At one point I said that Anna always used to remind me that I am not your mum and I joked about how annoying that was to hear. Linda said, ‘this might not be helpful right now and tell me if it’s not but I do want it to be said that none of us grow up unscathed, we can’t protect children from pain, we all have our own issues, that’s the beauty of being human… the difference is that your experiences hurt you very deeply and are still impacting you today.’ I nodded and told he that it just doesn’t seem good enough. I told her I overthink and analyse everything. I told her that I asked dad once if they ever sat in bed at the end of the day and went over things, talked about how they could have done things differently that day, or talked about me and Daniel and how we were coping or not coping, he said never. I asked him, ‘surely there were times when mum said she wished she’d done it differently’? He said no… there wasn’t a single day where they thought about the impact on us I mean what the actual fuck!? I always go over and over things. There isn’t a night goes by where Adam and I don’t talk about the impact of our parenting. We talk about it every single day, multiple times a day in fact… almost every interaction. What we have done and how we could adapt, repair, change things for next time. I said to Linda, ‘I mean I want to go back in time and fucking shake them! Grab them by the shoulders and scream at them ‘wake the fuck up!’ – they were the adults, they could have done something but day in day out it was just….. (long silence)… ummm well…. (long silence… I might have said stuff here but I can’t remember, I became very dissociative. I was staring out the window and then noticed out the corner of my eye Linda moving slightly further forward towards the screen, like she was watching me closely (embarrassing) I grabbed my new stuffed dog, River and stroked him off camera)… uh anyway it doesn’t matter now…’ Linda said, ‘what happened for you there, Lucy, you were talking and then you suddenly stopped talking?’ I said, ‘uhhh’ a lot. Then covered my face and said, ‘I don’t even know what we were talking about,’ and then Linda repeated what I had said (which is the only reason I know what I said and was able to write it above) and said, ‘you were getting angry, I could feel your anger’. I said ,’and here comes the shame, I just want to close the laptop now.’ Linda asked, ‘what’s the shame about Lucy?’ I said, ‘…uh… coz we’re just talking! It’s just words.’ She gently said, ‘yes but they are words that carry a lot of weight, we’re talking about something very painful and you were feeling anger about it.’ I said, ‘Maybe anger wasn’t a safe emotion for me to feel either then.’

I then had this very vivid image in my mind and said, ‘it’s like I’m standing here with a huge hose desperately dowsing water on my current house in front of me in case it catches fire when there isn’t even any fire there at all, while there is this other house ablaze behind me. I’m focusing on my kids and on all these possible ways I might mess them up but it’s a distraction taking me away from closely looking at what actually is hurting which is everything that’s behind me… the childhood behind me, the one that’s beyond saving, it’s burned to cinders.’ I was talking quite quickly again and I continued, ‘Overthinking everything, like everything. I over think EVERYTHING – like Grace has been asking about sex and I’m stressing out about whether I’m explaining it the right way. We were watching Cheaper by the Dozen on TV and the dad had a vasectomy and she asked Adam what was happening so he said he was having an operation so he couldn’t have any more babies and Grace said she thought it was women that had babies and Adam explained that sperm is needed as well and that led to more questions and I’m just terrified that something we say will scar her for life I mean I don’t even remember when I learned about sex I was that young and it filled my head, she filled my head with this stuff and…’ I involuntarily took three or four huge breaths in.  

In the gap Linda said, ‘I was really struck by the image of the burning house you know. This is really big important pressing work that’s demanding we take notice, that’s a striking image and you said it’s on fire right behind you, right behind your head… that’s powerful. It’s still hurting you, Lucy.’ I said, ‘yes it is.’ And sort of nodded with my head down for a while.

I said, ‘I just think all these things are like smoke and mirrors… you know focusing heavily on my kids and present day anxieties that distract me from what brought me to therapy in the first place… like all these road blocks you know, like the transference I’ve experienced with all my therapists… you know, why focus on dealing with all my painful childhood stuff when my mind’s conjuring up all these fucking weird fantasies about my three therapists!’ Linda smiled and said, ‘it’s interesting you would say roadblocks because they can be moved… but they make us stop and pause and take care of something in that moment, don’t they? And they’re there for a reason, so maybe whatever the roadblock is, daily life stuff, transference… maybe it’s encouraging us to look at something important.’ I liked that she used my analogy to help me understand it in a deeper way. I love that she is allowing me to explore and process through analogies like Anna would. It’s what I need to do to figure out what my internal experience is.

I said, ‘so we’ve got 7 minutes to go and I had something on my mind, I just wanted to say that I was processing our last session a lot this week and you said that me feeling this grief is really respectful of Anna and my relationship and I was thinking about how grief really feels like love. I thought about all these great quotes and poems I’ve read about grief being love turned inside out and I thought… it’s easy to own this grief that I feel for Anna because I love her so much it feels like the only thing I can do is feel this grief, almost to honour her and the love we developed between us through the work we were doing. I thought that maybe that’s why I struggle to grieve my childhood, because I don’t love myself or the child I was… there’s just hate and shame and anger and resentment and loathing about that girl, there’s no love there…I mean I had slowly started to feel the beginnings of a connection but really, I don’t love my child self. It’s easy to grieve for Anna because I love her and miss what I’ve lost. It’s hard to grieve a childhood when you don’t even know what it feels like to have the thing you missed out on. I guess that’s why it hurts so much when the therapist is caring or loving because then it gives you a taste of what you longed for and that’s the loss… you’re grieving the love you didn’t have… anyway, that’s something for another time.’ Linda said, ‘wow… yes, that is a very big something for another time. Definitely.’

And we sort of ended there. We talked a little about the sunny weather and we confirmed Saturdays session time and said goodbye.

As I closed my laptop I sort of ‘realised’ I was in my room in my house and I suddenly felt very spacey and uneasy. I had to lie down and in my head I was thinking, ‘wow I’m not feeling okay, I feel so weird…’ I was really dissociative and felt very unreal. I slept for about an hour and woke up feeling a little more grounded but still emotionally fried. 12 hours later and I’m still feeling the affects! I felt like Linda was a very present, patient and caring listener today. I felt that she was committed to finding out about me and learning who I am and what I need. Right now, I feel hopeful about her ability to work with what I am currently bringing her. And I am getting more used to sitting with the discomfort of not knowing what is round the corner in terms of my therapy journey. This is where I am right now and so this is what I need to deal with… and I keep reminding myself that Anna had faith in me that I could continue this therapeutic work without her, so that is what I will do.

River

This grief is pure love.

‘In order to stay healthy, our nervous systems and psyches need to face challenges and to succeed in meeting those challenges. When this need is not met, or when we are challenged and cannot triumph, we end up lacking vitality and are unable to fully engage in life.’

Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

We are approaching the end of the second week since Anna phoned me to let me know that she was closing her practice. I keep going over phrases that we said to each other during that call and despite going over her words countless times in my head, I can’t hear her voice anymore, I wish I had recorded her at least once. I do remember her words though… ‘if you remember nothing else from this conversation I want you to remember this, I am not rejecting you…’ ‘…you were never too much for me…’ ‘…I am so proud of you… you gave your all, every session, week in week out…’ ‘…working with you changed me…’ ‘…I care deeply about you…’ ‘…I will never forget you.’ I can hear me quietly voicing my realisation, ‘so this is the last time I’ll ever speak to you and I’m never going to see you again?’ Crying silently as she replied yes, so she wouldn’t feel any worse than she already did. A 14 minute phone call to mark the end of two and a half years of deep attachment therapy. She told me, ‘don’t let this be the end, take this to Linda. Work on this ending with her.’

On Tuesday the 19th of May my therapy mum died. That’s not an analogy… it’s a fact. She’s just Anna now. She’s not Anna my therapist. She doesn’t see me twice a week anymore. She doesn’t regularly read my texts, talk to me on the phone, sit writing notes about me between sessions. She will have closed her folder within which she held her case study of our work for her dissertation, she will no longer read up on ways to help support me, book herself onto courses that will deepen her knowledge. She doesn’t make her way to her office every Tuesday and Saturday and in one of the hours sit with me, look at me, study and analyse and feel with me. She will never-again leave that building holding me in mind. None of that happens anymore. My therapy mum is now just Anna. It’s only now that our work has finished that I can see so clearly how much she cared about me. That she really did value that time we spent together. I feel our connection and love so powerfully now. It feels like I’ve been torn from the soft womb of her mothering, cord severed, ripped from her arms violently, prematurely. Parts of me were brought to being in that room in front of her. Parts of me were breathed to life in that room in front of her, because of her. Because she saw me.

I didn’t just lose someone I loved. It’s not just the relationship I’ve lost. It’s the hope of healing some of these very deep wounds in the next few months or years with her. It’s the sentences started that I intended on finishing with her. All those times I said, ‘I can’t go on with this today…’ through words or dissociation and so she would hold it for me, indefinitely, until I was ready. I want to phone her up and scream into her voicemail, ‘I’m ready now! I’M READY NOW! I want to cry with you now. The dam has burst and I couldn’t stop myself even if I wanted to. I want to ask you to hold me and rock me while I howl. I want to lie with my head in your lap and have you stroke my hair like my mother never could, I know now that you’d do that for me. I want to sit cross legged on the floor holding hands with you, eyes closed breathing together. I want to tell you all the things that happened to me and have you hold me in the pain of it all. I want to tell you that I love you and hear you say it back to me. I want to tell you that the wall is no longer there Anna, there is no wall. And I’m sorry that I said I had mixed feelings about coming back to you after the first six sessions with Linda. I was always going to come back to you. I wish I’d never said that. I was hurting and I was frightened. You told me that you will be inside me forever and I am inside you. I feel it now… I fucking feel it now as I grieve losing it. I want to be given the gift of leaving when I’m ready to go.’

She invested so much in me. I can see now that she connected very deeply to my journey and I trusted her so much with it. I knew I could take anything to Anna and she would help me work through it. My personal development has been massively interrupted. I was on a train moving steadily forwards and suddenly someone switched the track without consent and I’m veering off on a route I hadn’t planned. She didn’t plan it either. I don’t even know what track her life’s hurtling down now but it’s definitely not the one she wanted. Back in March during her first bout of illness Anna said to me, ‘I’m sorry that me being ill has impacted your therapy journey,’ and I didn’t even think anything of it because I just figured we’d pick things up again when it all went back to normal.

So it’s been two weeks. I can honestly say that the pain I felt immediately after she said goodbye felt like it would kill me. I cried so much I thought I was going to be sick… and as I write those words just now I am transported back to Lucy of 1998, sitting on my bed in my room writing a poem with the first line, ‘have you ever cried so much you feel like you might throw up?’ It’s such a thick and powerful grief and I know it well. It scarred my heart as a child and I’m tracing those scars now. It threatened to kill me at the age of 14 and it threatened to kill me again 22 years on. Back then I had no one to share the pain with. I cried by myself, I cut into my skin, I took pills and drank. All in secret. Eventually I grew an impenetrable shield that no one could get in or out of… numb for decades until now. I am not numb anymore. As Linda said, ‘it is an act of respect to fully feel the grief.’ Last week I didn’t think I was going to make it out of that pit and if I’m honest I may not be out of it yet. Driving to her office hours after the call with this huge heartache pouring out of me. I genuinely thought I was probably going to kill myself by the end of the week. It was fucking dark as hell.

When I was 14 years old I did everything I could to not feel the pain and when it did creep out of me, despite being completely alone, I felt deep deep shame. Now, there is no shame. I walked across a field this afternoon where the grass has grown to my waist the past three months and as I walked I cried openly, with one hand on my chest and the other on my belly. This grief is pure love. It is all of the love I felt for her and all of the love I long to feel from her firing around inside my body and spilling over. It feels like the past two and half years she has been preparing me for this moment. Deconstructing the shame that silenced me, cracking me wide open, loving me to a place where I could finally honour the grief. Giving me something to grieve in real time that allows me to send a lifeline back in time to that 14 year old girl that I buried inside me. I’m feeling it with her, she’s no longer alone.

A very patient and wise friend who has witnessed and given time and space to my raw and unfiltered expressions of this grief each day for the past 14 days said to me today, ‘I fully believe the conditions that get presented to you, you’re going to use them to heal…’ and she brought this quote to me… “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” This feels like real and validating hope. It is the perfect way to express that there will be no silver lining because the best option will always have been that Anna could stay with me and finish our work together… but in the absence of the best option and in fact regardless of what option I’m faced with, I will find a way to heal.

This week I bought a beautiful little stuffed dog that looks like a fox. I have tucked Luna and her little family away, lovingly, for the time being. It is just too painful to see them right now. I named my little fox-pup, River. He is a symbol of my unending desire to move towards my goal. Rivers keep going. They are strong enough to wear away the land and move rocks and boulders yet gentle enough to cleanse and caress and ground us. The river can smooth a jagged stone to a shiny pebble in time and score great trenches that change the landscape forever. The river can be a calm, quiet reflector of light and it can be a deep and vast body of dark unknown wonders… whatever the river is, it moves. And so here I am, faced with these conditions that continue to bring me to my knees at points each day… but whether it be for the love of Anna or more importantly the love of myself, I’m gonna use this to help me heal.

Okay, I’m listening…

It was fucking brutal.

This morning I noticed that I felt fairly indifferent about the upcoming session. I felt good about my decision to send the email ‘using my voice’ as Anna would put it… I haven’t worked this hard for over two years just to have someone crap all over that in one session! If anything it felt like honouring the work Anna did with me to advocate for myself. Also, I’ve felt so massively supported by everyone commenting and sending me messages the past couple of days (and in fact through this whole thing) that I felt very confident in my position and secure in the knowledge that if the whole thing didn’t work out I’d have a beautiful group of amazing, empathic survivors and allies linking virtual arms in a circle around me ready to validate, love and support me on my search for a new therapist. I ended up going for a drive with my family the hour before the session. The first drive in nearly 3 months. It felt amazing to be out, like it was healing my mental health with each field we passed. We had the music up full and all four of us sang along like before lockdown, it was seriously so lovely. At one point I thought about how normal it felt and that maybe we will eventually be able to get to a place of feeling like life has settled again. Then a tiny wave of grief when I remembered there will be no Anna coming with me on that journey. That I will have to get used to life outside of lockdown without her… everyone else’s lives will slowly return to what they were before but for those of us who lost someone through this, we will carry the loss with us.

I logged on and we both said ‘hi’ in our usual way, in my head I’m wondering what she’s thinking. Linda asked me how I was and I said, ‘well to be honest, putting the email to one side I actually feel really good today. We went for a drive this morning for the first time in nearly 3 months and it was fucking medicinal! So good to get out and see something new you know.’ Linda was smiling and said she was so pleased it felt good to see some new stuff and do something different. I said, ‘and I decided to stop taking the diazepam and it might be a coincidence but I haven’t felt suicidal today or yesterday so I don’t know but maybe that was contributing to the really low feeling.’ Linda asked me when I stopped taking it and I said, ‘well on Wednesday I had three which is more than I’ve ever taken in a day before and after our session I crashed massively and could barely function I just felt like my whole system was shutting down you know and I think it was partly a nervous system response to the intensity of the session and not knowing how to deal with that but maybe also because of taking the meds so on Thursday I woke up feeling really grateful that I hadn’t acted on how I felt and decided to make some changes and one of those things was having a break from the diazepam to see if that helped…’ Linda said it sounded like I was in a really hard place on Wednesday and she was sorry to hear that.

So then we launched in to the email. I asked her if she’d read it and she said, ‘I read it once this morning. I was very busy yesterday and didn’t have the chance to read it any more times than once,’ I thanked her for reading it and said that I had assumed she wouldn’t read it and I was prepared but also shitting myself about having to read it to her in session. She said, ‘okay so you don’t need to shit yourself about it…’ I laughed and told her it was par for the course that I always feel like that anyway and I just push through the nerves and anxiety every session. She smiled then continued, ‘obviously there was a lot in the letter so, I know you mentioned reading it to me, you can if you want to do that or… I don’t know how you want to do this but it’s important that we cover everything you want to cover today… and also as you mentioned we will talk about the boundaries around that today as well because that’s also important.’ So straight off I noticed that she seemed calm and open to listening and relaxed. Which obviously felt great. She’d read it and she was willing to turn up and work on it. I thanked her for being willing to talk about this and said I understood it was important to go over the boundary.

I asked her what she felt about the email and Linda said, ‘I want to say that I got the very clear message in the letter that you did not feel understood by me on Wednesday and I want to share with you that as I read the letter I felt that I was not understood either. You know sometimes that happens where we completely miss each other, we just go off in different directions.’ I said, ‘I hear what you’re saying and that’s important but I do feel that… well this is my session and so it’s vitally important that I’m understood. This is meant to be benefiting me and it’s me who feels the massive impact if I’m not understood.’ She said, ‘while that’s true, there are two of us in this relationship and I need to feel understood and heard as well.’ She then said, ‘I’ve got to be honest with you Lucy I was horrified… fucking horrified when I read the email, honestly… fucking horrified.’ I felt a burst of panic in my chest and asked her to clarify what she meant by fucking horrified, ‘because to me it sounds like you’re angry with me.’ She thought for a bit and then said, ‘well I was just reading through it fucking horrified that this was your experience of the session and I was trying to think about how I had said things and what we’d discussed and my experience of the session was completely different from your experience… horrified… for me it’s the sense that my empathy had been completely misinterpreted as gaslighting.’ I said, ‘right…’ trying to take it in. She continued, ‘Sometimes we can be in such a dark place where we cant take in anyone’s care, you know? We could be in a space where nothing feels good and everything feels like a threat, perhaps the place you were in on Wednesday meant you weren’t able to take my empathy in. A really horrible hard place to be and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to help.’

I thanked her and she looked quizzical and said, ‘hmmm that sounded a bit, I don’t know, flat… are you sure you were able to take that in?’ I said, ‘So… yes I am grateful for what you’ve said there, that you’re sorry. I’m uncomfortable with what you said before that.’ She asked, ‘Okay, which bit are you uncomfortable with?’ I thought for quite a while and then said, ‘…your empathy was interpreted as gaslighting… saying that to me IS gaslighting!’ She looked shocked. I said, ‘what you’re saying to me is that what you were doing was kind and nice and caring and the problem lies in how I interpreted it. I’m the one with the problem.’ She explained some more about how we can find ourselves in such a dark place that we can’t take in empathy. I said, ‘No… I know what empathy feels like, that did not feel like empathy.’ She sat back and looked right at the screen for a while as if she was really actually paying attention and she said, ‘Okay I’m listening to you Lucy, I hear you. It didn’t feel like empathy and that’s very important. And I am really sorry for that Lucy. I genuinely mean that. I’m sorry that my words made you feel worse.’ I couldn’t help but smile broadly with tears in my eyes and I thanked her. She said, ‘thank YOU for your honesty, you know Lucy, if it wasn’t for what happened with Anna we wouldn’t be working together and in therapy terms we really haven’t been working together for very long at all.’ I said this was out twelfth session and she continued, ‘yeah we really don’t know each other, I don’t know you and I’m listening and learning because I want to get to know you… so this is very important work. A very important conversation.’

I nodded and really felt so glad that we were both facing this conversation. It is important. I said to her that I was really glad to see that she was willing to hear me out and try to understand me. I said, ‘I think it’s important also that I say this… what you are describing as sensitivity is actually hyper vigilance. Which is a trauma response. To call it sensitivity is to say that this is some sort of character flaw. Whereas this is actually a survival strategy that makes perfect sense when you know my history. And yes I’m an adult now and no I’m not in any real threat but this relationship does in some ways mirror the parent child relationship, certainly to some parts of me, the parts that need to be healed, those parts struggle to trust. My trauma is interpersonal so your words and tone and mannerisms and facial expressions and body language… I’m interpreting it all, all the time. Minute details. Because that’s what I had to do as a child… and I get that I’m not a child any more but that is what I was exposed to every day of my life from birth so… like you’ve talked about neural pathways before, so those grooves that have been scored millions of times over these fundamental, developing years… they are pretty fucking deep… it’s going to take a shit load of work to really shake up and dig up all that deeply engrained stuff to then create new pathways of a new way of being in relationships.’ Linda was listening and nodding and saying sort of active listening noises and phrases. She said, ‘yeah this all makes a lot of sense and I’m taking it all in. It makes so much sense that you would be like that, yeah… it is a perfectly understandable response to the… yeah to the uh… to the trauma actually yes.’ And she had a really sort of deep feeling expression on her face, like she was seeing this part of me that she didn’t realise was there or something. Like it was sinking in for her. She told me again that she was grateful that I was willing to be so honest with her.

I said, ‘the thing is, you’ve met me in this really fucking strange time in my life and like, if you’d met me like a few months ago I was doing good. I was happy and life was going well. I was dealing with working through the childhood trauma stuff in my sessions but my daily life on the whole was going well. I had these things in my life that I’d carefully curated and sculpted and gathered around me that made my life feel full and fun and fulfilling.’ She was listening and repeating things like, ‘yeah you were happy,’ and ‘you had made this great life for yourself hmmm…’ I said, ‘and you know Anna and I had a really solid relationship so anything that came up in my life I would take it to her and she would help me work through it. Whether I was stressed with work or arguing with Adam or struggling with my perfectionism in parenting I would take it to Anna and she would tease it all out with me and help me process and figure out what was going on… life just ran so much more smoothly when I had her to talk things through with.’ Linda had that warm smile on her face that I recall noticing way back in the first few sessions whenever I would talk about Anna, like she was thinking fondly about Anna. I interrupted myself and said, ‘that right there…’ pointed at Linda and she widened her eyes and looked startled and like she was paying attention, ‘that version of you… that caring, kind Linda… I feel like she wasn’t with me on Wednesday and then I spent all my time thinking about how you probably have got sick of me and you don’t want to work with me and I couldn’t even remember this part of you and now I see it and I’m like struck by the fact that you’re here and you’re listening and I mean, of course you are this is what your whole job is about!’ Linda again was nodding and agreeing. I said, ‘anyway, back to what I was saying… It’s like in the movie Inside Out. You know how all the areas of the girl’s life are all suspended around in her mind and one by one they all start crumbling and dropping out the space they’re suspended in. That’s what is happening in my life…’ She said that was a powerful image and she said, ‘all the areas of your life have crumbled.’ I said, ‘yeah and like I said, if you had met me a few months ago I wasn’t like this, I wasn’t overly sensitive, I had a lot going on in my life, just like in the film… I’d worked really hard at getting to a great place… but all of a sudden everything in my world that brought me all this happiness and gave me a sense of identity and made me feel solid in who I am, all that has disintegrated in such a sudden and short space of time and not only that but I’m then having to try to cope with that by myself because the person I would have taken all that to has gone.’ I started to cry a little but kept talking. ‘So the island of my life where my marriage sits is crumbling because for the past 3 months I’ve had no one to process our disagreements with and the island of my relationship with my kids, especially Grace is crumbling because I have no one to help me iron out all of the tiny little ways that relationship triggers me daily. My ability to do my job… I mean my job has changed so much through this lockdown and the stress around that is immeasurable and yeah so that’s crumbling. My health, so I can’t go to the gym anymore I can’t go to my weight loss classes… I’ve been binge eating and not exercising… so that islands crumbling. And even my close relationship with my brother is crumbling. I don’t know how to deal with any of these issues by myself, we hadn’t really got that far yet. I processed everything with Anna. I used to take everything to her Linda. This is why I need two sessions a week. It’s a lot! Family life, in particular my relationship with Grace… for example at bedtime when I read Grace a story and cuddle up with her, it fuckin hurts so much because I never had that, my mum never read me bedtime stories and she never cuddled up with me… so I have these emotional flashbacks and reminders of pain from my childhood all the time and I would have taken it all to Anna and she’d have helped me process it so I could then go back to family life with a better understanding of things and the ability to repair with Grace. The past few months all of that has been piling up, un-worked-on, since the end of February I haven’t had that support… and so now it feels like I’m looking at this life that was once great, like I really felt like things were going great, and its all fucking crumbled before my eyes and then as if that isn’t bad enough I fucking lost her! The most important attachment figure in my life and the only person I trusted with all of this. She’s gone and I cant get her back and the grief of losing her… god. My life is chaos and I’m barely keeping my head above water and I am meant to then try to process the grief and then you know, I’m told that I’m sensitive… you know? Of course I’m fucking sensitive…’ Linda interrupted me and finished my sentence, ‘…your life has fallen apart and you’re deep in this very painful grief… this is trauma. It’s fucking traumatic!’ and I said, ‘yeah and I have to try to build a relationship with you in the middle of it all just so I can try to get some of this back on track, somehow.’ She said, ‘and yet here you are showing up!’ I said, ‘yeah what choice do I have really? This is about survival.’

I said, ‘I had convinced myself that this session wasn’t going to happen. I was quite relieved to receive your email with the link. It’s hard for me to determine the inner critic sometimes you know it’s not like she comes through with this like witchy voice in my head luring me into the dark side of hating myself… it sounds very logical, like a rational thought process – Linda doesn’t understand me, she thinks I’m some sort of overly emotional, hyper sensitive, easily triggered irrational person and nothing I do or say will help her change her mind. But I can see and hear now that you have come to this session open and willing to hear me out and I do want to continue this you know, I was kinda frightened by all of this, I was looking at other therapists online thinking it was going to be too triggering to work with you because you didn’t get it. But I do want to continue to work with you…’ Linda said, ‘you do want to continue, good, I want to work with you too.’

I said, ‘You know, maybe 6 months down the line I could talk reflectively about my sensitivity around the words people use but one week after losing Anna and you know, I’m feeling all this grief and you’re telling me I’m sensitive and that I’m easily triggered. It was too soon. I think I just need someone to sit with me in this, understanding and caring. It feels very delicate and painful.’

She said, ‘I hear you. It felt too soon. This is on me you know Lucy, this isn’t yours it’s mine… generally as a rule I work with quite fast paced clients (she specialises in working with armed forces short term treatment) so we maybe do 6 to 8 sessions and I am a fast person by nature and so I’m used to moving quickly… I need to be mindful of that, I am going too fast for you.’ I said, ‘oh that just makes me feel like shit though because I want to be able to process things quickly. I want to be one of those people who is just like in and out after 6 sessions you know, I feel like I’m broken and I really feel so ashamed that it’s taking me this long.’ Linda said, ‘Hmmm no but there’s no shame in that. It takes as long as it takes and their situation is different – they are working on different things, you are dealing with trauma and that will understandably take time. What I said to you on Wednesday felt brutal and it was too soon.’ I sort of laughed and said, ‘yeah well anyway so…’ and I started to talk about something else and then Linda said, ‘no hold on let’s stay with that because it feels like you’re trying to brush that to one side but it’s important that you hear what I said. So I replied, ‘hmmm okay well, it sounds like you’re saying that I felt like it was brutal because I’m sensitive but anyone else would have been able to take it… and this is a lose lose situation for me because by pointing this out I am showing how sensitive I am, which is the twisted nature of gaslighting… whichever way you look at it, it’s my fault that it hurt.’ Linda spoke a little firmer and said, ‘I want you to hear me,’ she put her hand on her heart and said, ‘I am taking responsibility for this. What I said on Wednesday was fucking brutal and I’m so sorry that it hurt you and made you feel unheard and misunderstood. I want to work hard at getting to know you and understanding you. It takes time to get to know someone and I want to do that with you…’ I said, ‘I feel that. I can feel that. Thank you. It was brutal and it was too fast.’

I said, ‘I’ve always wanted things to go faster. Why would anyone want to stay in this much pain for any longer than they need to you know? To be honest a similar thing happened when Anna and I worked together in the early days. Things moved too quickly and it was pretty retraumatising for me actually until we settled into a better rhythm… this isn’t as extreme as that, there has been some progress over the years! And actually, in the last phone call I had with her she said to me to remember to be patient, that the temptation is there to rush through this work because it’s hard and painful but pace is really important for me and I need to remember to go slow, baby steps… she specifically told me to be patient and go slow.’ Linda smiled a sort of sad smile and said, ‘this is really important, Anna knew you and that’s really important advice. I’m hearing you that we need to go slow. I will work on that.’ I thanked her.

I said, ‘I’ve said this before but this is such a good example of this… so there are really different parts of me. So there’s this really capable, coping adult part that is seemingly confident and is articulate and reasonable and can be rational and logical but there are these other parts that can’t cope with that, they feel much younger and they don’t have the words to describe what they’re feeling and they carry the really hard emotions and you know… they ARE younger because they’ve been trapped in a space and time and all of the pain has been frozen at whatever age I was and then when it’s triggered it does feel young and the pain is overwhelming and that’s when it needs to be sort of drip fed to me and really carefully controlled so I don’t go too far and actually, you know the times when I’ve been crying and maybe you’d say it was an example of me being sensitive but if Anna was here she would be saying, ‘noooo don’t tell her she’s being sensitive, she’s doing so well, this is amazing, she’s feeling, she’s crying, she’s sitting with it, this is such great progress!’ honestly she would be so proud of me for expressing my feelings, so fucking proud of me for crying as much as I’ve cried and not doing it only by myself and the fact that I’ve been advocating for myself… she’d love all that! So yeah, its these child parts that are holding the emotions that need very slow, patient, nurturing kid gloves you know?’

I then explained further why the interpersonal stuff is really painful. I gave a couple of examples of what my mum was like and how flippant she was with what she would say to me. I said a number of times in the session that words are really important to me because words are all I had and Linda said, ‘I’m hearing that loud and clear. Words are really important to you.’ I said, ‘and this is something Anna learned as well as the timing thing, I guess learning the hard way but hitting a sore point and having to repair it you know… so there was a time when she said something about the fact that I, ‘still haven’t cried’ with her and it really jarred me and I wrote to her about it and we worked through it and she said she knew instantly that it was a clumsy and hurtful thing to say and wasn’t how she’d intended it and she regretted the phrasing… that kind of apology and repair is so meaningful to me it really means so much.’ I continued, ‘I need you to remember that this is really hard for me, to hold on so tightly to the words people say… I overanalyse everything and to be given the space to explore why something has impacted me is so healing.’ She said a few things about how she understood why it was important and that she will remember how important words are to me.

I spent some time talking about the situation with my brother (I wrote about this in my instagram stories this week – basically I told him how I’ve been feeling recently and he overreacted with a bunch of helplines and interventions then gave me the silent treatment when I told him how unhelpful and codependent he was being, that I just wanted love and understanding, not to be fixed… that it was his desire to alleviate his own worry and concern that had fueled his jump to action and not a desire to give me what I needed which was connection and compassion). I talked about how the misattunement strangely mirrored the situation with Linda and that his lack of attuned support this week has hurt so much because I feel so misunderstood. And that’s a sore point because it reminds me of what I’m grieving. That I’ve lost Anna who knew me so well. I said, ‘and when I talk about Anna and the things I’m missing, I’m not comparing the two of you, I’m purely grieving the loss of this person in my life who knew me better than anyone. I could say just a few words to her about something and she would immediately know how that thing would have impacted me because we’d worked together for so long. I miss that. It’s not that I don’t value what I have here with you but I miss that relationship that I’d invested so much time and effort into. And it’s hard to have to overly explain everything to try to help you understand what I’m trying to say or how I’m feeling, it requires energy that I just don’t have… I just want to be understood and empathised with you know? And I guess that’s what hurt with Daniel too. I wanted him to just know what I needed.’ Linda reflected on the situation as I explained it all to her about him overreacting to what I’d shared with him and that he really can only ever see me as a mother figure and therefore just needed me to be okay.

I said, ‘I really do value your willingness to thrash all of this out you know… and I do like people being honest and open with me and I try to be like that too. I know the email is kind of a side step round and not all that direct a way to communicate but it was a way for me to feel heard. It’s like I imagine people will have very rigid thoughts and beliefs and nothing I do or say will make them change their mind so I need to give myself time to explain myself perfectly before I give them the space to read through my thoughts. I get that it’s important to bring these things directly to you but this is our first rupture I suppose (she smiled at that bit) and I had no idea how you were going to respond, I just felt that it was really important and I couldn’t let it go.’ She said she was glad that I’d brought it to her. I said, ‘so is the boundary could you please not send emails between sessions?’ she said, ‘um, no, it doesn’t have to be as strict as that, you can send emails but maybe not ones like that because it’s far more safe when it is brought to the session, this is the only safe way to deal with it – in session, in real time, within this containment, you know?’ I nodded and said I understood and that was talked about at length with Anna and I do agree. I didn’t feel told off at all, it felt like a really calm and mutually clear conversation.

I said, ‘so, 90 seconds to go… over the next few sessions I want to cover a few things. It’s important I talk about my self harm urges and the things that have happened recently and also I want to talk about all the things I’m missing from working with Anna. I want to be able to talk about these things without you thinking I want it from you, I just need space to grieve losing these things you know like phone check ins and texting between sessions I really miss these things and want to talk about it.’ She said, ‘okay you have a list of things to cover,’ I laughed and said there was plenty to keep us busy. We confirmed the time for Wednesday and we both thanked each other for being open and honest. She really made a point to thank me… then there’s that awkward three seconds where you’ve said goodbye and you’re both still visible trying to find the ‘leave meeting’ button. Hate it!

Anyway, so one thing I’ve noticed is that there is this need to make use of every last minute of a 50 minute session. And I thought it wasn’t possible but it really is! I needed longer with Anna and there will probably be times when we delve into some of the trauma work that I will need longer and hopefully she will let me have double sessions if necessary. But there was a point in the early days with Anna where I wouldn’t open up until I was about 40 minutes into the session then we’d have ten minutes or even 5 minutes of very deep and painful work and then fifteen minutes of grounding. I can feel the difference, I don’t feel ashamed of the need to launch straight into the work as soon as we’ve said hi and to make full use of the entire session. I also have the gift of hindsight. Now with two long term, deep attachment therapy relationships under my belt, I know how important it is to be transparent, honest and open from the very start… to speak my mind and tell the therapist exactly how I feel about the way she is being with me and state exactly what I need about the service she’s providing while I’m not knee deep in the transference and deep attachment which makes it ever so slightly more complicated and difficult to be my vulnerable self! (Also… my god how proud Anna would be to hear that I am fighting to have my needs met. Jeez that was a hell of a lot of work right there. Hours and hours of ‘what do you need?’ ‘I don’t have any needs’ – ‘I don’t know what my needs are’ – ‘you can’t help me’ – ‘I don’t deserve to have needs’ – ‘you should know what I need’… shit!)

What’s happening here with Linda feels like very important work and something a friend was talking through with me earlier really resonates. It’s the idea that having to stop working with your therapist prematurely and moving on to a new therapist can feel like you’re going back to the beginning again but you’re not, its about starting from where you are now with fresh eyes. And I actually said this to Linda, that of course I wish all of this had never happened, but having lost Anna and having to go into detail explaining myself, feeling this grief, revisiting things, working through getting to know myself through a new person, it has propelled me onto a new road of learning and growth that I wouldn’t have experienced had I still been working with Anna. And its not that I was stuck with her, I do believe we were doing amazing work and would have continued with that. But this situation has broken open a box of potential growth that wouldn’t have been triggered within my work with Anna. So for that, I’m grateful.