Soothing the inner child and repairing ruptures

Another 90 minute session…

I spent an hour last night going over my notes and trying to figure out what I felt about the past week and how I felt about the session. I decided I would read my notes to Anna word for word. She has said in the past that it’s a good idea to write how I’m feeling in the moment and then bring it to session so that’s what I did. I was sure I wasn’t going to hug her on arrival today, I just wanted to go in and talk immediately about how I’d been feeling.

I was fairly nervous beforehand but also a bit of teen anger coming through, I felt the bravery to stick to what I wanted to talk about. I walked in and went straight to my chair, dumped my stuff and went to go to the toilet. She stopped me on the way out and said, ‘Do you want a hug?’ in a kind way but also in an I know stuff has gone on this week so you might not want a hug kind of way. I melted and went straight into her arms. Big breath out. She said, ‘it’s great to see you!’ and I said (while still hugging), ‘you might not still feel that in half an hour!’ she said ‘okay’ and I left for the toilet. When I came back in I said, ‘I don’t know why I said that, sorry…’ and smiled. She said, ‘maybe because that’s how you felt… so maybe we should start there?’ (I’m only just realising that me saying that clearly shows that a part of me feels that if I tell her I’m not happy about something she’s going to wish I hadn’t come and that she’ll want to stop working with me… broken record!) She said, ‘I do want to say sorry for having to cancel the session on Tuesday. There was a situation… I wasn’t able to work and I know it will have been really disappointing for you. I’m sorry.’

I said, ‘yeah it was hard, I was sort of okay with the cancelled session because I was so emotionally exhausted and have been sleeping a lot because I’m so tired but it was such a hard week and I was really badly triggered and I just felt very overwhelmed and alone and…’ Anna said, ‘what did you need?’ I flipped to a very stroppy teen feeling, arms folded, legs crossed at the ankle, staring at the floor I snapped, ‘a fucking phone call perhaps… like you said I could have when I need it… that might have helped!’ there was silence, heart pounding. I looked up at her eventually through my eyebrows and she looked very serious and said, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to speak with you. I was unavailable all of Thursday and then Friday I was away from home.’ I looked back at the floor.

She sort of checked that I was doing okay and then continued, ‘I know this is really hard but I think it’s important that you know, I did not want to cancel your session, it was unavoidable, I was sad about it too. My whole week was turned upside down and there was no set time that I could be certain I would be able to give you the holding space you needed.’ I said, ‘why ask if it could wait then? Why tell me you were busy and couldn’t speak and then ask if it could wait?’ she said, ‘I thought that the contact in a text might be connecting enough, then asking if you were able to wait until Saturday was an attempt to get your adult on board…’ I said, ‘well what would you have done if I’d said no, that it couldn’t wait?’ she said, ‘I would have tried hard to find a time for you but I trusted what you were saying to me, that it could wait.’ I said, ‘well you didn’t really leave me any choice… it’s really fucking hard for me to ask you know, do you know how hard it is for me to ask for what I need? (she nodded) … and I built myself up all day to ask you and then when I asked you gave me excuses about why we couldn’t speak then as an afterthought asked if it could wait… if I’d said no and you had phoned me, I’d have had to then prove to you it was that important for a phone call… of course it can fucking wait coz look, here I am, I’m alive, but it was pure agony getting to here.’ Then I switched to feeling more adult and caring and said, ‘but you know, my heart aches for you and what you may have been going through this week… this is such a fucking unusual relationship… if I knew you outside of this room I would know what was going on in your life and I would care and take an interest and I wouldn’t harp on about my shit, I wouldn’t be trying to make you feel guilty for prioritising your family over your work, of course family is at the top of the list… but also I know this is my therapy, this time is mine and that it’s not my job to care about you but I really do and I’m sorry you’ve had a challenging week and I do really care…’

Anna said, ‘Lucy, yes this is your therapy and it is your space to explore exactly how you feel about what happened this week. I really am sorry I wasn’t able to speak with you on the phone. I did wrestle with it but there wasn’t a way to make it work, I considered it very carefully and I did hold you in mind.’ I was still angry and sitting there thinking, what use is it to me that you held me in mind? But also I’m grateful that she said that and I do believe her.

Anna said, ‘This past year has not been great, lots of cancelled sessions, which is unfortunate. They have all been unavoidable and although I know your adult believes me when I tell you there are legitimate reasons for the cancelations, your frightened untrusting child part does not believe me… does that sound right?’ I said, ‘Yes… I just think you shouldn’t offer things you can’t follow through on. I know I sound like a fucking petulant child and life’s not that black and white, but we should just say no phone calls, no texts… don’t tell me I can have something and then not let me have it. It’s so disappointing and just so mortifying to ask for something and not be given it. It made me feel so much worse. It was so stupid to ask for it in the first place, I knew how risky it was, I knew there was a 50/50 chance you’d say no and you did and then I felt so much worse!’

Anna was nodding and said, ‘if that’s what you want then we can contract for no calls and no texts but I want you to know that it is still okay by me for you to text me and for you to ask for phone calls. I may not always be able to give you what you’re asking for or you may need to wait a day but I don’t have a problem with you asking. This week was unusual circumstances but if I can, I will happily give you a call… and this is so important, that we talk about this, how it feels, how you feel… well done for telling me all of this because it can’t have been easy.’ I nodded.

There was a bit of a silence and she asked, ‘how is all this feeling so far?’ I said, ‘um… can we rearrange the room a bit?… can you sit next to me?’ she smiled and got up and moved things round a bit and sat right beside me. I shuffled around and told her I hate these chairs. They’re too small, I can’t get cosy. I curled my legs round and turned to face her.

I told her that I felt like there were two conflicting feelings inside me. On the one hand I knew that she would never cancel my session for no reason and that I should give her a break but the other feeling is that I want to go on and on at her for going against what she had said and that it was really shit for me and I don’t know how to cope with both conflicting feelings. She said, ‘that’s really normal Lucy, to feel like that, it makes sense… that’s your adult and your child… you care about me and also you are hurting. You being upset about what happened doesn’t detract from you caring about me and hoping I’m okay… equally me having a valid reason for not being able to speak to you on the phone doesn’t mean you don’t have every right to be hurt and disappointed by that.’ I tried to get my head around that one. I said it felt very black and white in my mind and I was struggling to hold both ‘truths’. She said that made sense to her and that it would get easier as the parts of myself become less fragmented.

At one point we talked about trust, again. I said I couldn’t trust anyone and she asked what would happen if I trusted people. I said I would get hurt. That you’d have to be a fool to trust people, people just let you down. They never do what they say they’ll do… Anna said, ‘I understand why you would feel like that and I understand that words are really important. Especially with you because words were always so meaningless when you were growing up. People would say one thing and do another, people would ignore what you had to say, people would lie… of course you feel like shouting at me, ‘don’t offer something if you can’t follow through!’ you feel like I told you that you could ask for a call and then when you did ask I said no… but what I would say is, when we are hurt the tendency is to assume everyone will hurt us, we close ourselves off to people and don’t give them the opportunity to show us care and love and to meet our needs. It takes bravery to be open and to trust, to try again. By being brave enough to tell me how I let you down, you’ve given me the opportunity to sit with your feelings and to apologise for my actions that caused them. To explain to you a bit about why I did what I did that let you down and let you know that I didn’t want to let you down and that it made me sad too. Does that make sense?’ I told her it did and I thanked her for telling me. I was feeling quite quiet and like I was sinking inside myself.

I got my journal out of my bag and said, ‘I feel like I need to just read this to you.’ Anna asked if I can remember without reading it (she has explained before that in the past I have used reading off my notes as a way to block the emotions). I said, ‘but I feel likeif I just say it to you now I will recall it from this adult place, like filter it through a place where I feel fine and you know, it’s nice to sit with you and I just want to be nice to you and keep everything calm and close and connected but really a lot went on and I need to maybe share it from the words I came up with at the time…’ Anna agreed that was a really good idea but then I started talking about something else and annoyingly didn’t really go fully back into the journal notes.

A bit later I tried to bring things back to talking about the week. I had a look in my journal and reminded myself of the couple of things that had triggered me earlier in the week. I described the situation with my husband that had triggered me. That it had immediately thrown me back to a very vulnerable place. ‘My whole body felt filled with emotions, totally overwhelmed, like a flashback – I didn’t feel like me ‘today’ I feltlike I was right back then.’ Anna asked if things are the same nowadays and I said, ‘it’s totally different now, nothing is the same as it was back then… it’s not like that now at all.’ Anna said, ‘so this is really important, you were triggered into the part of you that can’t hold on to what things are like now. The child part who is still trapped back then. So things are different now but when you were triggered you could no longer remember how good things are now with him. The overwhelming feeling you get when you’re triggered, that child place you go to, it’s important than you find a way to soothe yourself in that moment and help that part be aware that she is not vulnerable anymore, she is strong and safe…’ she said something about remembering that those feelings are not about ‘now’ they’re about ‘then’. I think I got a bit spacey then because I can’t remember what we said.

We talked a bit more about where the sensations were in my body when I was triggered and she asked me if I kept myself safe despite having these massive overwhelming feelings. I reluctantly said I had kept myself safe and she said, ‘well done Lucy, I know how hard that must have been, I’m so pleased you looked after yourself, well done.’ I hate this whole interaction, we’ve done this dance before. It doesn’t satisfy the part of me that was desperate to hurt myself. It just feels not as holding or something. She is trying to be supportive and encouraging but I just want to tell her how desperately close I was to pushing that blade through my skin. But I started to feel weird, my legs were going tingly and I needed to move around a bit.

At one point I talked about having coffee with my friend and how she had questioned why I struggle to trust Anna and I gave her an analogy that if you were repeatedly hit over the head with a mallet by someone you lived with as a child then when you grow up, anyone holding a mallet standing next to you would make you flinch… I told my friend that Anna triggers these transferencial feelings in me, something inside me is certain she will hurt me like my mum did. Anna nodded and agreed and explained a bit further to me why she works with transference in attachment based cases. That it is so valuable to be able to work with the therapeutic relationship as it is in the room. She wondered aloud if maybe my friend hasn’t gone that deep in her own therapy and that’s perhaps why she doesn’t understand why I am experiencing things this way. I said, ‘she just isn’t as crazy as me, she doesn’t have the same mad attachment stuff with her therapist that I do.’ Anna said, ‘okay so let’s pause and I’d invite you to say that again but without the criticism and instead with feelings…’ I rolled my eyes, spent ages thinking then said I couldn’t do it.

After a bit more patient coaching I said, ‘she does the work with her therapist within that hour and then doesn’t think about it through the week whereas I do the work and I carry it with me every minute of the day and I think about you a lot…’ Anna said, ‘because’ and I said, ‘because maybe that’s the kind of relationship we have..?’ in a questioning tone. Anna said, ‘what kind of relationship do we have?’ there was a silence and then she said, ‘I want you to know that I feel a pull to answer for you but it’s really important for you to answer this yourself, in your own words… for you to hear it.’ I said, ‘hear it from you?’ and she said, ‘no hear yourself say it.’ I said, ‘but I hear myself say it over and over in my fucking head all the time…’ she said, ‘it’s important that all parts of you hear yourself say it out loud.’ I said, ‘well… it’s not the relationship is it really, it’s not you it’s all me, it’s just what I feel about you,’ she said (still ever so patiently), ‘how do you feel about me?’ I said, ‘this is fucking humiliating, are you really going to make me say this?’ she said, ‘yes, it’s important, this is where you lose me… in the shame and pain of how you feel about me… your inner critic pushes your child to a place of abandonment…’ I couldn’t bring myself to say it fully, I just said, ‘I care a lot about you, I think about you a lot, it means a lot to me, what we do here… I like you and… I don’t know…’ Anna said, ‘and it’s important, you’re doing really deep work here and it has an impact on both of us, this work, we’re both learning from each other. Not everyone is up for this kind of work… I’m wondering if it’s unhelpful for you to speak with your friend about your sessions? It’s important that you choose carefully who you share with because what we don’t want is for you to have this delicate, precious thing that’s important to you and then someone questions it and you’re left thinking is it as I remember? Maybe I imagined it. Maybe we don’t work this closely with each other. Maybe I shouldn’t feel this way… you see what I mean? We start to gaslight ourselves, because that’s what we’re used to.’ That all made total sense to me and I told her I’d planned on not going into details with this particular friend about my therapy in the future.

She then said, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about you and how painful it is for you when you are in that very young triggered place and you no longer feel any connection to me. You completely lose me. It’s as if I don’t exist to you… does that sounds right?’ I nodded, hiding most of my face behind my scarf. She continued, ‘I understand that. I’ve been thinking about how we can work together to help you feel connected to me in those times.’ She started delving into her pocket and said, ‘I know you look at my photo sometimes and that helps you feel connected to me… does that still work for you?’ I said it did and I commented that I’d noticed they changed her photo on the website and I liked it. She smiled and said, ‘I was wondering if this would help as well. I have these stones (she pulled out a black pouch), I thought perhaps you’d like to have a look at them and if you wanted to choose one you could take it away with you. When you’re feeling in that dark, vulnerable, overwhelmed state maybe you could hold the stone and it might remind you that I exist, I’m here, I care, I hold you in mind, this is real, we are connected and I will be there to support you at our next session. What do you think?’ I just looked at her face and down at the stones in their little black pouch and back again kind of in disbelief.

She poured the stones out onto the palm of her hand. About 5 heart shaped glass stones, all different colours. The inner critic chimed in immediately, ‘how many other clients has she offered one of these to? Did she get that pouch of stones from a generic ‘therapist toolbox’ course… are they personally hers or is this just some technique she does with clients like me!?’ Another part wanted to cry and hug Anna and thank her… I think I did thank her out loud for thinking of me and trying to show she cares. I said, ‘I wanted to ask you about the possibility of using a transitional object over a year ago but couldn’t pluck up the courage for the inevitable rejection… fuck sake!’ Anna smiled and said, ‘why fuck sake?’ I said, ‘it’s like the hugs… I’ve deprived myself of something I could have had, if only I’d asked!’ She said, ‘aw but you weren’t ready then, you’re ready now. We know each other better now, it has more meaning now… everything takes time, these things can’t be rushed.’ I told her I would love to take a stone and that it meant a lot to me. I explained that I love collecting crystals and that I have one I carry that reminds me of her, I keep it in my pocket.

We went on to talk about ways I care for myself in her absence. She asked how I managed to hold on to my connection with her during previous breaks and I said that I sometimes look over my journal notes to help remind myself of things she’s said to me. I then said, ‘um.. I don’t know if you’re going to think this is weird but, well you know your necklace that you have, the tree of life necklace,’ she nodded and said, ‘yeah, you have one too,’ surprised I said, ‘you know?? Have I worn it here?’ I don’t remember ever talking to her about the necklace or wearing it to session, I was too afraid she’d see it and think it was weird I was copying her. She nodded… I seriously have no recollection of ever letting on to her that I have one too. I told her that I wear the necklace when I’m missing her or if we have a missed session and it helps me remember her and feel close to her. She smiled. I’m writing all this out and I am actually staggered by the fact that she is not wanting to run a fucking mile… how this isn’t scaring the shit out of her is beyond me… this just seems like such bat shit crazy, obsessive, needy stuff! But she was sooooo happy and kept saying how it was a great idea. She had a really genuine smile on her face and told me she was glad I had found a way to help myself through the missed sessions and that I could hold the pendant in my hand and maybe think in my head, ‘what would Anna say’ if I was struggling… which I do a lot! This whole reparenting thing is amazing, how she actively encourages me to seek connection and reassurance from her. It’s blowing my mind as I’m thinking about it. She doesn’t want to push me away!??

I said, ‘while we’re talking about this… another thing I did this week which I think probably is pushing it in terms of weird stuff… well… oh fuck I don’t know how to talk about myself without criticising myself!’ I whispered, ‘why do I do that?’ and then said louder, ‘I think I criticise myself so other people don’t get in there first, but I don’t expect you to criticise me so why do it here!?’ she said, ‘your adult doesn’t – maybe your child does!’ I said, ‘hmmm yeah, she thinks you’re thinking it, you don’t say it out loud but you think it!’ Anna quickly said, ‘what does she think I’m thinking?’ I replied, ‘oh jeez she’s really lost the plot now!’ Anna was nodding and then said, ‘I’m nodding because I understand that your child believes your inner critic when she says I think you’ve lost the plot, I’m not nodding because I agree… I’m not thinking that at all. That reminds me, in your text you asked me to tell you I don’t hate you. I didn’t reply to that because I wanted to say it face to face, that’s not your adult speaking, your adult knows I don’t hate you… your inner critic distorts the things I’ve said to you and makes your child believe I hate you and that we don’t have a connection, that’s when you feel like I don’t even exist anymore.’ I was just sitting there blown away at all the connections firing off in my mind… yep that’s exactly what’s going on.

On a number of occasions through this session Anna paused me when I was being critical of myself and asked me to go back and say the sentence again but instead talk about my feelings. I couldn’t do it a lot of the time, it was slow and hard. I could just about talk factually with no emotions (good or bad)… she said that was my adult, the factual voice. She wanted me to connect to my child, so kept encouraging me to speak with the emotions. At one point I got really annoyed with her and said, ‘wow this is so hard! I am realising I’m so hard on myself, I don’t know how to not criticise myself!’ she said, ‘I know, and I am going to do this from now on, just pulling you back to try to reprogram you to focus on the feelings and be compassionate with yourself because I think this is where the sticking point is, this is why you lose connection with me and other people.’ I said, ‘okay… so another thing I did was that I listened to this longing I’ve had for a while now… well I’ve always found it quite upsetting and it triggers a lot of sad feelings… um… my kids and all their toys, their stuffed toys and well… I didn’t really have a lot of that stuff when I was little and um… recently over the past year I’ve had this idea that I might like to get myself a stuffed animal or something but I mean I know that’s a bit weird coz I’m a 36 year old woman but…’ Anna interrupted and said, ‘I love stuffed toys!!’ I smiled and said, ‘well I saw a Jellycat panda in a shop when I was Christmas shopping for the kids and fell in love with it but it was over £40 and I just thought I couldn’t justify spending that much on a toy for myself so put it back… then thought about it over and over and kept looking it up online… well anyway I realised my mum always used to complain about the cost of things and how it wasn’t worth it and I just thought, I can spend my money on whatever I want, I work hard and if I want a fucking stuffed toy I should get myself one! So I just bought it online last week and it arrived a couple of days ago and I seriously fucking love it, it’s the most adorable thing ever.. it’s super soft and cuddly and lovely and I thought about bringing it here today but didn’t have the courage and…’ She interrupted and said, ‘oh I was just going to say I wish you’d brought her in I’d love to see her, will you bring her next week?’ I nodded. I said, ‘I decided I wanted my child to name her but all I kept hearing inside was Pandawanda… which is a bit much haha… so that can be her inner world name but then I had a dream last night where the name Luna came to me and…’ Anna said, ‘oh lovely, you love the moon!’ and I lit up and was like, ‘yes I do! So she’s Luna! Um… and I had such a big excited feeling inside me on the first night I had her like a kid on Christmas eve, it felt like a sleepover and I just was saying in my head she’s all mine and I actually had to put her out the bed because I couldn’t fall asleep I was so excited.’ Anna was really loving all this chat about Luna. I told her that my husband seemed to really understand why I’d bought her, that it was a gift to my inner child and he was very supportive of it all which has been lovely.

She then said, ‘holding a soft toy can be so soothing. When Little Lucy is really struggling and you are losing that connection, you can hold Luna… rock her, stroke her. When you’re holding her you’re comforting that small part of yourself. You might be cuddling or rocking her but it’s like your rocking your child parts. It’s a different holding to when our partner holds us, that’s our adult being held…’ We sat with that thought for a while. I really know what she means. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever felt before, holding Luna. I keep wanting to come up stairs to visit her and when I hold her it seems to open something up in me. I will bring her to session and see what happens.

Anna went on to say that she knows my child is still hiding behind the chair but she sees her peeking further and further each day, that she believes my child will eventually learn to trust her. With about ten minutes to go Anna told me I had done really well talking openly about how I’d felt, that she’d let me down and hurt me. She said, ‘the hope is that through these times when I miss you or hurt you, that you are able to tell me honestly how you feel and that I can hear you, see you, work at understanding you and try to repair and heal what was broken within our relationship… and that through our relationship you can heal something that happened and is happening in other relationships out there… does that make sense?’ I nodded and there was some quiet time. I looked around the room and took a big breath and looked back at her and quietly said, ‘you really hurt me when you didn’t let me speak to you on the phone.’ She said, ‘I know… and I am so sorry… it hurt me too. I hope you feel I’ve been able to show you I do care.’ I nodded, so fucking close to tears. She continued, ‘I know you feel that it’s a risk to ask me for what you need but trust is a bit like faith, you sometimes just have to blindly leap in and hope that you will be okay either way…’ she went on to talk about how people will hurt me and let me down but also there will be people who care very deeply and want to mend that with me and that if I’m brave enough to be vulnerable and share when I’ve been hurt, that’s when the repair can happen, like today.

I quickly nipped to the toilet and when I came back Anna was sitting staring out of the window. I sat down and she said, ‘we have three sessions before the Christmas holiday so maybe one of those session we could talk about what you can do to help support yourself through that break where you will have no contact with me, none.’ I nodded and she started listing things like coffee with a friend, journaling, going to my husband for a hug, cuddling Luna, drawing, reading, watching tv, a bath, the gym… I was just thinking ‘NONE NONE NONE NO CONTACT NONE’… I guess we will cover that in another session!

She asked me how I felt about ending the session today and I said, ‘I feel like we’re only half way through this, I still really feel like I should have read you what I wrote in my journal, all of it…’ she said, ‘I think the pace needed to be slow today, it’s been a good pace, it’s okay that we’re only half way through, bring your journal back on Saturday and we can continue this next session.’

She then gestured towards the table and said, ‘I laid the stones on a tissue so you can see all the colours and choose one you’re drawn to.’ I looked at them and could have cried at the thought of her pulling a tissue from the box, spreading it out, carefully placing all the stones on top of it while I was in the toilet and then patiently waiting for me to come back. Why does that break my heart so much? It’s agony. I thought about asking her what her favourite colour was but in the end I didn’t because I figured she would ask me to choose mine… my favourite colour is blue and she often wears blue clothes so I chose the blue one. I thanked her and then looked in her eyes and thanked her again, ‘thank you for thinking of me and for bringing these in, it really does mean a lot to me that you’re showing me you care.’ She gently smiled and nodded.

She then told me a story of when she was on the train recently and she saw a wee boy sitting at a table seat with his mum. He was pushing a car around on the table as he sang Jingle Bells to himself. He was in his own wee world and he sang the whole song start to finish. Anna said everyone around was looking with ‘awww’ expressions and the little boy was oblivious, no self consciousness just total trust that he was safe because his mummy was there. As I’ve typed this out I think I understand why she shared this story. I didn’t get it at the time and it just made me feel a bit sad but now I think she’s saying that this is an example of how a free child should behave and when my child trusts her I might be able to have a carefree, uncensored approach to being with her… maybe not but that’s how I’ve interpreted it just now.

We talked a bit about my plans for the rest of the weekend and we hugged at the door. I thanked her again and told her I liked her perfume… seeing as this was the session for creepy oversharing and obsessiveness!! As I drove away my head was filled with everything we talked about and everything we didn’t. Now that I’m typing it out I’m struck with a very powerful sense of longing. She was so attuned to me and worked so hard to connect with me and I really did feel it, so much so that now I am alone again I crave to be with her. I want to feel that connectedness all the time. The absence of it feels like I’ve been sucked into a black hole. I’m going to find a container for my special blue heart glass stone and give Luna Pandawanda a cuddle before going to sleep… and if you got to the end of this post congratulations! I think this may be my longest so far.

Cancelled session and no phone call…

…a perfect storm of triggers and feeling abandoned.

Mon 2nd

Anna cancelled tomorrow’s session. She sent a message saying there had been a ‘family illness’ and it was unavoidable. She asked if I wanted to have a 90 minute session on Saturday to make up for it or a session on Tuesday instead. I asked for the 90 minute session. I have been completely emotionally exhausted the past few day and despite being prepared to go see Anna no matter how I’m feeling, it might be nice to not have to go all the way up there. I’ll enjoy the rest. I’m going to a spin class tonight to help discharge some of this pent up energy.

Tue 3rd

Had a long nap after work today, so exhausted. I feel like all the emotional stuff is just draining me. Work has been really hard going. Also, despite me feeling like I’ve healed quite a lot of the Christmas stuff with Anna, I am still on edge about Christmas… seeing family and the grief and longing of my little parts… it’s all quite a lot.

Wed 4th

Massively triggered by something my husband did tonight that reminded me of a time he betrayed my trust. I thought I was over it but clearly the whole thing had a much bigger impact on me than I realised because when this thing happened tonight I freaked out inside. It took me right back to that very overwhelmed place and I shut down. Crawled into a ball on the bed with my face pressed into my pillow. Eventually squeezed the words out, ‘do you still love me?’ to him. To which he answered with a lot of gentle care that he does love me. I told him, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust you again… or anyone. I can’t trust anyone.’

I text Anna asking if I could have a phone call. It took me all day to pluck up the courage to ask for it. She replied saying, ‘I’m not available tomorrow and won’t be in the city on Friday, can it wait til Sat?’ I felt completely devastated and like such a fucking fool for thinking I could ask for a call. I text her back saying it could wait, what else could I do? I told her I was triggered and that it had been an awful few days. I made a snap decision to go to the gym which brought all the emotions to the surface. I sobbed my heart out on the way home. When I got back I went upstairs under the guise of going to bed early with the intention of cutting myself. By some miracle I managed to push myself past the trigger. I ran myself a warm bath with salts and bubbles and candles and flowers and crystals. I sat, suspended in the warm water, floating, and thought about the days following my last session. I heard the small, frightened, lonely parts in me who long for Anna. I cried and cried and cried and tried to imagine being in her room and crying like that, from my soul, while she holds me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust anyone, ever. It hurts so much. My heads spinning. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust her. I don’t trust anyone. I’m so broken. I can’t function in relationships. I don’t even know how to just ‘be’. I don’t even know how to be with myself. I don’t trust myself. I have been so anxious and panicky all day. What is wrong with me? Why can’t she just give me one phone call? I’d only need a couple of minutes. Would I have asked if I felt it could wait? Does she not know how hard it is for me to ask? Does she not know me at all?

She said she didn’t have any time tomorrow and that she’s not in the city Friday… what does that matter? She has a mobile phone. Why can’t she squeeze 3 minutes in. fuck I hate this so much. I hate feeling so needy. This hurts so much. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust anyone ever. It hurts so much. My heads spinning. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust her. I don’t trust anyone.

Thur 5th

The universe has a funny way of reminding you you’re still on the journey. Every so often you get yanked backwards, taken by surprise to a place you thought you’d left behind. The past 48 hours have been brutal and have served as a reminder that I still have a lot of work to do. My triggers, my processes, my wounds, my awareness.

I now massively regret texting Anna. What if she cancelled Tuesday’s session because she’s sitting at a hospital bed watching someone she loves fade away? what if every night this week she’s grieving and here I am demanding from her. I don’t want to have to waste time talking about this in my session on Saturday. I want to just continue with the work we were doing. But also, this is the work. I am so frustrated with myself for texting her. I knew it was a risk. Its like a test to see if Anna can still meet the offer of a call and she proved to me I can’t trust her AND I’m angry with her because she has made me feel guilty for having these feelings because she has a family member who is ill. I am so selfish. So disgusted with my inability to contain my own emotions. So ashamed of my neediness.

Fri 6th

Anna… in the absence of you, I discovered my own strength. You weren’t there for me but I survived. I’ve been ruminating on this theme all day. I’m sure there’s anger there, protecting me from the pain of perceived abandonment. Anna replied to my text today apologising for the delay and saying she’d be there to support me tomorrow. It felt like a rushed reply and why did she send it anyway? I had to deal with no reply for almost two days – why text now? ’it’s not good enough! I could be dead by now!’ – that’s what’s going round and round… its too late. I didn’t reply to her message. I knew I couldn’t trust her to be there for me.

My perfectionism is disappointed in her. She said shed be there for me. she said ‘you don’t have to do this on your own anymore’ she said ‘you can ask for a phone call’ – but what use are these words if she doesn’t stand by them? How can she ever expect me to ever trust her when she offers something and then lets me down. Over ten cancelled sessions since we started working together. I can’t even be properly angry though coz I know they will all have been legitimate reasons… but there’s another voice saying, ‘really?’ Do you know for sure that she cares about you and your sessions? It’s just not as important to her as it is for me. I just wish she would tell me the truth. I AM on my own. I asked for a call and she said ‘can it wait’… like ‘mummy come look at this’ … ‘och can it wait!’ ‘mummy I need to tell you something’… ‘for god sake stop hassling me, can it wait!?’ … is this not enough for you? fuck sake can it wait? You’re getting 90 fucking minutes on Saturday, can’t it wait til then? What was I meant to say? ‘no it can’t wait?’ so then she struggles and squeezes 5 minutes out of her busy schedule and calls me and is like ‘this better be good… what is it that’s so important that it couldn’t wait?’ what could I possibly say? ‘oh… uh… I felt sad, I felt lonely, I wanted to hear your voice..?’ Of course it could wait, but it was agony to wait! I replied asking her to tell me that she didn’t hate me and she couldn’t even reply to that!

The people pleasing carer who was always parentified as a child keeps pulling me back to the fact that Anna had some sort of crisis, a family illness that took her away from her work. That there is a valid and unavoidable reason for her cancelling my session and not offering me a short phone call and that my feelings are not as important as her ‘real life stuff’.

I’m being unreasonable and I need to remember all that she’s done for me but its so hard to stay connected to all that. She’s a human being and she is not responsible for my feelings. What use is it being so unforgiving and so full of resentment and disappointment?

I was so tempted to cancel the session tomorrow but I realised I was just angry and wanted to punish her. But it wouldn’t be her that was punished it would be me. I’m the one that needs the sessions. If I cancelled she’d just fill my slot with someone else at the top of her waiting list.

In my early 20’s I got a tattoo that says, ‘alis volat propiis’ – she flies with her own wings. Recognition of the fact that everything I had, everything I achieved was down to me. I had nothing handed to me on a plate. No support, no easy shortcuts.

There was a self pride there but also an angry nod towards my mum and dad that I got to where I am despite their lack of decent parenting. I survived, no thanks to them! I’m thinking that my strong feelings about all of this with Anna – feeling so let down by her – it’s transference. My whole life I’ve had to do everything myself. I’ve always had to wait, I’ve never been able to ask for help. I’ve never been prioritised.

Perhaps the only difference here is that Anna will hopefully be prepared to hear me and help me repair this.

I Cried

Finally, I have made it to the end of the two week therapy break. As I write that out I feel like it’s quite ridiculous that it caused me as much pain as it did… I can stand to be away from so many people for longer than two weeks yet this felt like it could destroy me. There aren’t even the words to describe it… it’s like I don’t exist if I’m not seeing her regularly… I know other people with attachment/developmental traumas feel the same way about therapy breaks and I have a world of understanding for them, yet as is always the case, it’s hard to find compassion for myself.

I have written on Instagram how hard the break has been. I’ve been very depressed and desperately lonely… despite keeping busy and filling the two weeks catching up with friends, going to the theatre with my family, trips to the gym and a massage and facial… the very nature of feeling fragmented I guess is that I can ‘usually’ maintain some sort of ‘normal’ existence while a part of me is imploding on the inside. I really struggled to look after myself after having some very exposing sessions (discussed here and here) and then a sort of rupture in the last session before the break. I sent Anna a series of texts the day after that session which yo-yo’d between being angry, upset, asking for a call then saying everything was fine. The four texts spanned a 12 hour period. She didn’t reply to any of them. I pretended I was okay with that but I think it really elevated my anxiety. I was sure she would have looked at those texts with total distain. Fuck sake don’t I deserve a break!? Leave me alone you needy bitch! That kind of thing.

Session day finally came around. I felt very anxious in the morning. I umm’d and ahh’d about sending Anna a message and eventually sent one saying along the lines of please go easy on me today, I know you’ll want to talk about the texting and boundaries and we will but I really need to feel connected to you… this has been the hardest break yet and I’m really scared I’m going to shut down and pull away from you, I really need to try to make sense of this. She actually replied, much to my surprise, saying we would work it out together and that she was looking forward to seeing me later. I felt relieved that she’d replied but also a bit spacey. The drive there was a total blur. I was on another planet and suddenly I was standing at her door one minute after the start of our session time.

Anna clicked the buzzer and said, ‘hello!’ in an unusually chirpy way as if to show me that we were fine. She was the only one working in the office, all the other rooms were empty. It always feels more intimate when we’re the only two bodies in the building and I’m aware of this sense in me that she trusts me enough to be alone with me. I walked slowly up the stairs and went in her door and she walked straight up to me, arms wide open and gave me a big hug. I held on to her for ages, face resting on her shoulder and could feel my heart in my throat, my breaths were quick and shallow. I could feel my heart racing and I wondered if she could feel it too. I wondered what she was thinking… I always wonder that.

When we sat down I couldn’t really get comfortable, shifted around a lot. Eventually I took my shoes off and pulled my knees up to my chest. Anna asked how I’d been and I said I didn’t know. I looked out the window. I couldn’t regulate my breathing and I said, ‘I feel really wired.’ She said okay and she started breathing deeply, really intentionally which made me start to breathe like that. At one point she asked me what I needed but I didn’t know. She said it was important that I don’t censor myself today. I looked at her and she said something about there being lots of emotions I will have felt since we last saw each other and they were all welcome here.

Anna said, ‘what happened after you left here last session? I thought we’d resolved everything and you were feeling good?’ I said, ‘I don’t remember what the end of the last session was like but I just totally freaked out afterwards… all the blog stuff, it made me freak out… I don’t know… I felt like you didn’t trust me, I wanted to make you believe me, I felt like you would want to stop working with me after finding out that I write about the therapy on my blog.’ Anna nodded. I said, ‘I think it’s teen stuff… it all feels really confusing in my head but it was just, I didn’t feel like a grown up anymore, I felt like a teenager… the care you were giving me by checking that I was keeping myself safe online felt really threatening and judgemental to me. You know my mum never gave me safe boundaries, she never gave me a curfew or advised me not to hang around with people who weren’t good for me, she never looked after me like that and when I was a teenager, on the odd occasion that she did try to assert some sort of control over me I’d laugh at her or tell her to fuck off, I felt like she only wanted to be my mother when she needed something, I’d managed to look after myself all those years I didn’t need anything from her now… so the same thing kicked in when you talked about your concerns around the blog…’ Anna understood exactly what I was saying and said that she did trust me and knew I could look after myself, that she just cares about me and the care is the thing that triggered all of this in me. I said, ‘I wanted you to know that of course I wouldn’t jeopardise either of our privacy and of course I’m very careful about what I share, I wanted you to know that and to also be proud of me for sharing things I’ve kept locked away my whole life.’ I started to feel emotional but held my breath until it passed. Anna was being really lovely, I don’t know how to put it into words… if you could see energy omitting from a person, hers would be a lilac hue of fluffy soft hearts floating towards me. Or maybe something more solid and holding like a thick, warm blanket draped over me. Nothing about her presence felt angry or harsh or judgemental… I was feeling her care for me. She said, ‘I became your mother in that moment, your responses to me – you don’t really care about me you just care about yourself, you don’t believe me, you don’t trust me, you think I’m an idiot… that was your mother you were talking to.’ I nodded and really let that sink in for a few moments feeling flooded with emotions.

I said that the first week in particular was just awful and Anna asked me what I had needed in that time. I just kept thinking I needed you!! but I said, ‘probably just to feel everything, and that’s what I did… I felt everything… it’s the worst I’ve ever felt… the last time I felt like that, when I was a teenager, I never properly felt it, but this time I felt it all. I was so depressed.’ I said, ‘Do you remember the drawing I did that was like a corridor with doors going off it?’ she nodded enthusiastically. I said, ‘it feels like in those two really hard sessions we opened one of those doors and the 14 year old girl who was in there… well me… um she came out and now she’s fucking everything up for me!’ Anna nodded and said in a very gentle voice, ‘yep, that’s how this works… that’s the work…that’s the therapy…  it’s hard and I’m afraid it will keep getting harder… we open doors that have been closed for years and the feelings resurface and they feel overwhelming and we look at them and dissect them together, in here… it’s just really awful timing that I had my two week break right after she came out of her room and I wasn’t able to be here to support you.’ I felt like I’d just told her the most crazy thing ever and she accepted it completely. In fact she made me feel like it made total sense.

There were quite a few quiet moments. I was feeling very heavy and sad inside but looking back I wasn’t feeling self conscious, I felt accepted and like there was space for me to just feel how I was feeling. I said, ‘I missed you so much Anna, it was the hardest break, I’ve been so depressed and felt so alone… and I didn’t realise we’re only seeing each other twice this whole month and that’s really shit. I’ve gone from seeing you twice a week every week for two months to just twice in this whole month…’ Anna got her diary out and said, ‘let’s have a look at the calendar.’ I felt this wave wash over me, a sadness or something, like an awareness that she cares and wants to try to make this easier for me. I said, ‘I think I forgot how nice you are…’ and almost without even noticing it I started to cry. It felt like a crumbling inside me, or a melting, a slow shift in the ground like a gradual landslide that creeps up on you. The discomfort in my body when I cry is palpable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly started pouring out of my pores… the shame. I dropped my leg off the chair and started shaking it furiously. I lifted my hand to my face.

After probably no more than thirty seconds of this silent crying, I heard Anna put her diary on the table and she said very gently, ‘would you like me to come over there and sit next to you?’ I nodded. She moved my bag and dragged the other chair right over so the arms of the chair were touching. I was still silently crying, holding my breath in places as it’s just what my body naturally does when I cry, it chokes and blocks and restricts like a car accident on the motorway… a few cars escape and then the rest come to a halt. She said, ‘would you like me to put my hand on your arm?’ I nodded. I eventually breathed a bit and calmed down. Not looking at her I said, ‘I hate this so much, I feel so ashamed that I need you so much… I missed you so much… I remembered the last time I felt like this and you said I had abandoned myself and I know I did abandon myself but I don’t know why I did that… I even phoned in at work I just couldn’t face it… I didn’t feel like an adult I couldn’t cope…’ Anna said, ‘because it’s the only way you know how to respond… we can focus on finding some coping strategies for when this happens again so you don’t feel so alone next time, because it will happen again, this is the work and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, this is really good work you’re doing.’ I nodded, staring into space with my back facing her. I leaned forward and got a tissue, dried my eyes and blew my nose. When I sat back I shifted my body so I was leaning towards her rather than away like I was before. Anna put her hand back on my arm. I looked at the floor and said, ‘the thoughts came back… that the kids would be better off without me…’ Anna asked me if I’d kept myself safe. I said, ‘well… I mean, yes… but…’ she interrupted and loudly, purposefully exclaimed, ‘well done, Lucy!’ She leaned into my line of vision and repeated, ‘well done!’ looking right into my eyes. I nodded slightly and looked away. I said, ‘I thought about hurting myself every day. Points where I was so close to doing it. I stood making the dinner one night, very dissociated, imagined lowering my hand into the pan of boiling water along with the peas… there was a moment where I didn’t know if I’d actually done it or not… I was so gone, like not even in the room anymore.’ She made a noise like she understood and nodded her head. ‘I thought about smashing a glass in the sink and shoving my hand inside it so it would cut up my wrist…’ A tear escaped my eye and I quietly continued, ‘One of the days, I got a blade and sat with it against my skin… part of me wishes I had hurt myself because then you’d know just how awful I’ve been feeling…’ Anna immediately responded, ‘just because you didn’t hurt yourself, doesn’t mean you weren’t in absolute agony, you don’t have to hurt yourself for me to know how in pain you are… Lucy… I believe you when you tell me how you’re feeling… let me repeat that… I believe you when you tell me how you’re feeling.’ It hit me in my chest and I put my head down and cried silently. She believes me. That’s what I needed to hear without even knowing it. She believes the extent of my pain. I don’t need to hurt myself to show her my pain. She believes me.

I had my head in my hands and said, ‘it felt like it would be a relief to just not be here… it makes me angry that I can’t do what I want to do just for other people… I can’t hurt myself because my kids and Adam would see… I know it’s not good for me but I wanted to do it… I just felt so awful and I wanted it to stop.’ Anna said she understood and that in that moment I was aware that these feelings don’t last forever. I said, ‘it is lasting a very long time though.’ I felt completely understood and supported. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before. There’s no shaming or judgement. There’s no panicked warnings or telling me I shouldn’t be thinking those thoughts, she just sat with me, in the feelings. She said, ‘… and did you have suicidal thoughts?’ I nodded. She said, ‘…are you still having suicidal thoughts?’ I nodded. I said, ‘passive ones… just like… sometimes it makes things feel slightly less shit when I imagine there’s a way out…’ she said, ‘have you got a plan?’ I said no. I thought in my head about all the ways I think about dying, every day… none of them are planned out, they’re all just accidental deaths. I told her about how I’d sat with my son one night when he was frightened because he’s started to worry about monsters at night. I sat with his tiny hand in my hand and just looked at it. I said, ‘I know that’s all bullshit, I know they wouldn’t be better off without me, I know it would completely destroy their lives, every day for the rest of their lives, it would fucking destroy everything for them… but it’s like I’m trapped, it hurts so much to keep doing this… life… but I have to, for them.’

I said, ‘I had imagined you’d be really angry with me for sending the texts and that you’d want to stop working with me.’ Anna said, ‘you know that you can be angry with people and still love them, you don’t want to divorce Adam every time he makes you angry do you?’ I said, ‘no but me divorcing my husband is very different to you deciding you want to stop working with a client. It’s totally different!’ She was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘yes… do you want to ask me about that?’ I felt panicky and then shook my head. She said, ‘no…? I think that you do.’ I felt fear rush through me and tentatively said, ‘did you feel like you wanted to stop working with me?’ She said, ‘no.’ I looked in her eyes and said, ‘not even just a little bit?’ She said, ‘no’ again, firmly. I said, ‘were you angry with me?’ and she said, ‘not at all, I was frustrated that you were going to have to sit with that for two weeks and I couldn’t support you like I am now.’ She said, ‘I want to tell you Lucy that when you text me I was in the car with my family, I did read them… it was difficult for me, I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place because you had said you would feel worse if I said no to a phone call but there was no way I could ensure a private call with you, I couldn’t think of a way to reply to your message that would be holding because it might have helped you in the moment but then you might have started over thinking it again, or maybe you would have continued to text me or misunderstood my intentions, so I decided that the best thing I could do was hold the boundary, that’s why I didn’t reply… I held you in mind Lucy.’ I said, ‘I’m really sorry Anna, I’m sorry my texts made you have to think of me when you were on holiday.’ She said, ‘Lucy, you don’t have to text me for me to think of you… I think about you, I hold you in mind even if you don’t text me.’ I said, ‘willingly?’ and she said, ‘yes’ with a smile. She asked me how that felt and I just tried to take it in. I looked around the room and said, ‘nice, it feels nice.’ I started to cry again.

I told Anna about my dream of her giving me a box (I wrote about it here). She listened carefully to the dream and occasionally I looked up at her to check on how she was feeling. She was sitting with her face so close to me and I wondered what she thought of me, seeing me so close up… no make up on. I wondered how she felt when she looked in my eyes. If she felt a fondness for me or if she was annoyed by me, is she glad she met me or does she wish I’d never walked into her office? I told her how the dream had comforted me and reminded me that our relationship is very special, that she gives me things that she doesn’t give anyone else, that are special just for me, that just as much as she keeps her family life private from me, she also keeps our sessions private from her family. She was enthusiastically nodding and saying, ‘yes’ when I said these things. I said, ‘I think you actually do understand what this is like for me.’ She nodded with her eyebrows raised and a half smile as if to say more than you realise.

At one point Anna asked if I wanted her to move back over and I said, ‘do you want to go back over?’ she said, ‘that’s not what I asked…’ so eventually I said, ‘I like you sitting there.’ She said, ‘okay I’ll stay here, I like sitting next to you too.’ She revisited the issue of us only managing two sessions this month with various commitments. She then offered me something she’s never offered before, ‘how about we have a phone call on the Thursday of the week where we don’t have a session?’ I couldn’t believe she offered it to me to be honest, I’ve read and heard about other people having phone check ins with their therapists but I just never thought it would be something Anna would offer. I thanked her profusely and asked if she was sure, she raised her eyebrow at me and I said, ‘okay, well thank you, I’m happy to pay for it obviously!’ She said, ‘Lucy, I’ve offered it to you, it’s fine, you don’t have to pay for it!’ I started to well up again and she said, ‘I hope these are happy tears!’ I said, ‘I just can’t believe how nice you’re being… it just makes me feel so sad.’ She said, ‘because I’m not your mother…?’ and I said, ‘not because I want my mother to be here… but rather because… well I wish… well there is a part of me that wishes you were my mum. I think.’ *queue panic* She said, ‘well maybe you would have wanted that kindness from your mum when you were little?’ and for a split second the proclamation felt rejected, I reiterated, ‘no… I wish you were my mum.’ And she accepted it that time. ‘I know.’ She said quietly.

We sorted some more appointment times and talked about how I was going to look after myself until the next session. When we hugged at the end of the session I said to her, ‘I feel like I should be cracking open some champagne tonight to celebrate crying with you!’ she laughed and said, ‘why not?’ I said, ‘well I don’t actually drink so… uh…’ she said, ‘well, coke and a pizza then!’ and we shared a wee laugh, while still hugging.

I honestly could just hug her forever.

I Can Look After Myself

Is it a rupture when only one of you knows about it?

On Saturday we had our last session before Anna’s two week holiday break. I was looking forward to seeing her – we’ve had a couple of months of an increasing sense of closeness and the previous two sessions in particular felt very connecting (this and this). Despite the difficult subject matter where I tentatively talked about a sensitive issue I’ve not been able to share before, I felt very seen and understood. Anna was gentle and patient with me, encouraging me to talk but making it very clear that I was in control and that we could go as slowly as I wanted. She checked in with me a number of times which felt really caring and like she was holding me safe. The second of the two sessions in particular I felt something shift inside me. A little bit of the walls crumbling. I felt my self-consciousness melting and as we sat on the floor next to each other, not even talking, I felt deeply inside me like she really cares. In that moment the inner critic (who popped up to doubt the authenticity of what Anna was saying to me) was easily silenced. I knew she was right there with me in that moment.

So, on Saturday I walked in feeling good. I wanted to briefly tell her how amazing the past two sessions had felt and then talk a bit about how I felt about her going on holiday for two weeks… going from seeing her twice a week for two full months to no contact for two weeks. When I sat down I felt instantly like things were different, not bad just not as intimate and close. In the very difficult sessions, where I am feeling things deeply and feeling very seen, where I feel like she is being caring… it’s hard to explain but it’s like a filtered down, concentrated, potent version of therapy. It is focused and powerful and intense like very loud music listened to on headphones… I can’t help but feel it… those are the sessions where I can really feel the connection between us. During other sessions when I don’t feel emotions that deeply or don’t get upset, the ones where I stay in my adult and she doesn’t feel the need to be as overtly nurturing, they just don’t feel as connected – they are like listening to music that’s playing in another room, it’s muffled and not as clear. Unfortunately, the sessions before a break often feel less connected. I have two theories about that. One theory is that I unconsciously don’t give as much in the session before a break because a part of me is pre-empting the abandonment, so I reject her first. The other theory (one which Sirena suggested to me) is that Anna holds us both back in the session, not allowing me to go too deeply into anything very meaningful so that I’m not left carrying any painful residue or dealing with a kickback with no session to support me through the aftermath. Either way I am left feeling like all the closeness, connectedness and warm fuzzy feelings were all in my head and never happened in the first place. I feel like I must have imagined the intimacy, must have imagined the caring… how could I be so stupid to actually thinks she cares. Then I have to leave her office with this gnawing doubt about the authenticity of our relationship and not see her for however long.

So, back to Saturday’s session… I happened to mention that I’d been receiving a lot of messages through my blog and Instagram page from people who had found my words affirming, validating… saying it resonated with them… and I told Anna I felt a real sense of community amongst these people and that not only did they find my writing helped them but them reaching out to me helped me. I was feeling less isolated and enjoying sharing. I had mentioned briefly in a previous sessionthat I’d started blogging but not gone into details. Anna stopped me and said, ‘you write about therapy on your blog?’ I nodded and immediately noticed something change in her. A slight flicker across her face, she shifted on her seat and rested her head on her hand. I asked her what she was thinking and she said, ‘that’s great that you’ve found it helps you.’ I nodded but was sure that wasn’t the full story. I didn’t give her a chance to even check in with herself, I started to fire off statements that I thought might counteract whatever it was she was thinking, ‘it’s completely anonymous, it’s not my real name, or yours… I only share what I’m comfortable sharing… you wouldn’t even recognise yourself if you read it!’ she smiled and said, ‘would I not?’ I said, ‘even if you knew the name and googled it, it wouldn’t come up, it’s such a tiny part of the internet, only a handful of people read it and I’ve blocked everyone I know in real life from the therapy Instagram page… no one could find it!’ I could tell she was trying to give me a reassuring expression.

I said, ‘I can tell you’re thinking something negative about this just tell me what it is!’ she thought for a split second (that always feels minutes long) and said, ‘I was concerned because you’re just in the early stages of feeling comfortable sharing with me and I don’t want you to be putting yourself in a vulnerable place where you could be open to criticism and hurt… I know your adult might be comfortable sharing these things because you know it’s anonymous but it’s important to think about your child… how she feels having these things out there…’ I felt like she thought I was an idiot, doesn’t she think I know how to keep myself safe? I said, ‘why can’t you just be happy for me!?’ I felt like saying, ‘what, so you want me to share but only with you? You want me to talk but only if it’s just you!? Our little secret, is that what it is? Don’t tell anyone else… don’t talk to anyone else!?’ I didn’t say that though (although that should be brought up next time because that’s definitely an old wound). I kept reiterating, ‘it’s anonymous, I’ve hardly shared anything anyway…’ Anna said, ‘I was concerned but you’ve reassured me that it’s anonymous, I don’t know how blogs work anyway and this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this so it’s all new to me… I’ve never had a client tell me they write a blog… we talk about very personal, sensitive stuff in here…’ I said, ‘I don’t think you are worried about me, it feels like you’re worried about you – you’re worried that you’ll be recognisable in what I write!’ I felt like she didn’t trust me. She looked carefully at me and said, ‘you think I care more about whether I’m anonymous or not rather than caring about you… like how your mum always made everything about her?’ I replied, ‘hmmm yeah… well?’ Anna repeated that I’d reassured her and that she understood we were both anonymous.

We moved on to talk about a doctors appointment I’d had the previous day. When I’d come home my husband immediately greeted me at the door wanting to know how it had gone and even though it was fine and the thing I’d gone for had turned out to be a false alarm (thankfully) I was angry at him and wanted to just storm off upstairs. I didn’t want to tell him about the appointment. I was annoyed he was asking me. Anna helped me see that in that moment I felt two things (both relating to my mother)… one was that I felt like he would think I’d ‘made a big deal out of nothing’ and the other was that he wanted to find out the results to alleviate his own worries, not because he wanted to see how I felt about it. Neither of those things were true of him, they were both transference from childhood stuff. Anna then helped me see that Adam cared a lot about me and was just showing his love for me by asking me how it went.

I then quickly jumped out of that thread and said, ‘I still don’t feel okay about the blog stuff I want to go back to that.’ Anna said, ‘okay, what’s coming up for you?’ I said I felt really yucky. I pulled my knees up to my chest and sat sideways in my chair facing the wall and not looking at her. I said, ‘I wish I’d never brought it up now!’ She said, ‘oh why?’ in a kind and sympathetic tone. I said, ‘well it’s spoiled everything, it all feels weird now, I want to make you believe that it’s all fine, I need you to believe me, I don’t feel like you believe me (another old wound) it’s totally anonymous, it feels good to write it, I want you to be okay with it!’ She said, ‘Lucy, you’ve done nothing wrong here. You’ve done nothing wrong. I believe you, you’ve reasured me. I don’t read blogs, I don’t know how they work, I just wanted to know you were keeping yourself safe… does that make sense?’ I felt very stubborn and angry as if she was taking something fun away from me. I also felt like she was criticising blogs by saying that she doesn’t read them. I really was taking everything she said personally. (Now that I’m relfecting and writing about this I’m finding it interesting that this teen part of me decided to show up in THIS session… the one just before a break! What’s that all about? I wonder if it’s because I spent the past two sessions talking about horrible things that happened to me when i was a teenager. Like I’m testing her or something… do you really care about me? Even when I’m like this!?)

We moved on to talk about how I felt about her going on holiday. I said, ‘obviously I am glad you’re taking a break, you deserve a holiday… and selfishly I want you to be well rested and ready for all my shit so I’m glad you’re going on holiday! I want you to have a good time. But there is another part of me that feels very differently. In the past I wouldn’t have shared this because it wouldn’t change anything so what’s the point in saying it and I don’t want to make you angry or whatever but now I understand that it doesn’t matter if expressing my feelings wont change anything, what matters is that I get to share how I feel and have my feelings heard…’ I had turned myself back round to face her again and looked at her as she smiled and nodded, encouraging me on… she said, ‘so, how do you feel about me going on holiday?’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to go! I don’t WANT you to go! The past couple of months have felt amazing, I like seeing you twice a week I don’t want to stop, I want to see you twice a week forever and ever!’ I sort of laughed and she smiled. I said, ‘I don’t want it all to change. I don’t want to go back to the way it was before.’ Anna said she didn’t feel like I would go back to that. She talked about how difficult it used to be for me to say anything, that I talked slowly and deliberately with lots of long pauses as I carefully, thoughtfully considered every word. She told me that I’m not like that anymore, I’m far more comfortable with sharing things and can often dive right into a subject without the big preamble like I used to do. It was nice to hear her say that.

I said I was really sad that I was losing the twice a week sessions but I just can’t afford it long term. This month is going to be so hard because not only does she have a two week holiday, she also has a training day one of the Saturdays and on another I can’t make it. Anna picked up her diary and looked at me, she said, ‘I could arrange to come in a couple of Sundays so we can keep up the consistency if that would help?’ I said that would be amazing, then I said, ‘how would you feel about me doing Tuesdays fortnightly along with the Saturdays. So that I’m not completely dropping the Tuesdays?’ She agreed to that immediately and then said, ‘well, how about I just don’t take on a new client, so your slot on Tuesday will remain yours and you can come whichever Tuesday you want.’ I was so touched that she would do that, she would forfeit the money she’d get from a new client just to keep my slot free for when I need it. I told her I’d prefer that to a Sunday and she said, ‘me too, I’d rather not work a Sunday if I don’t have to.’ And it struck me that she actually meant she would come in to the office just for me on a Sunday. I was really moved by this and thanked her for helping me find some way to work it all out. Now that I type this out I can see that she does still care about me. She has consistently tried to find ways to help me within her boundaries. I need to remember that.

After Saturday’s session I freaked out about the blog stuff. I felt completely derailed. I sent her two very long texts (one going on and on about how I need her to believe me and the other talking about how ‘it’s my story to tell anyway!’) – thenI panicked and requested a phone call and then four hours later (after no reply) I sent a text asking her to ignore all those messages. I couldn’t stand the pain of no response and just told her I felt fine now. Told her to enjoy her holiday. I felt like such a selfish bitch texting her on her holiday. I hope she doesn’t hate me for doing that.

I’ve reflected on all of this with two close friends. They both helped me see more clearly what was going on for me. My inner teen was massively triggered by Anna showing care for me by being slightly protective and cautioning me on looking after myself. This type of care does not sit well with my teen. I never experienced this kind of care from my parents. They were never consistent, they didn’t have rules, I wasn’t given boundaries, I didn’t have a curfew, there was never a list of things I wasn’t allowed to do, I was never disciplined in a fair and consistent way… but every so often I would unwittingly break an invisible rule that would send one of my parents into a blazing fury or push my mother to her emotional breaking point. I never knew where I stood. I could never predict how they were going to respond. One minute she’s pressuring me into taking a joint with her boyfriend, the next she’s screaming at me coz she found a joint in my top drawer when she was snooping. I remember her once getting angry at me for back answering her when I was about 17. She shouted, ‘you will respect me, I am your mother!’ I was usually very compliant and eager to please her but by this point that part of me was dead. I laughed in her face and said, ‘are you fucking kidding me? NOW you decide to mother me? I don’t fucking think so!’ and walked away from her. This is exactly how I felt with Anna… like ‘how dare you try to tell me how to look after myself! I’ve been looking after myself my whole fucking life, how dare you tell me what to do…’ mega teen kick back. It’s the part of me that HATES being told what to do. I remember when I’d been working with Paul for about two years and we were reflecting on our sessions and he said, ‘I learned very early on that you don’t like being told what to do.’ I didn’t understand back then why I was like that and I’m not even sure he did… but I know now – it’s because it feels like the person who is doing this thinks I’m incompetent. And it feels threatening to the part of me that had to grow up fast and look after myself. When I was little, care felt like letting a person do whatever they wanted. Anna is teaching me that care is actually boundaries, care is calling someone out when you know they’re bull-shitting or criticising themselves, care is questioning a person’s actions or words. But this all hurts so much when you’ve never had it before. One of my friends likened it to my daughter and how I won’t let her go to the park without me yet. My daughter might think I’m being unfair but actually it is the love and care I have for her that has dictated that decision. Anna cares about me and wanted to make sure I am thinking carefully about my decisions.

Since reflecting on all of this I have modified a couple of things on my blog and the Instagram page, just to ensure anonymity. I feel so much better about it all. I’m looking forward to sharing this insight with Anna who will probably have no clue that this rupture has happened!

Joy in the Therapy Room

I had mixed feelings all week about tonight’s session. It is the session before a therapy break. It’s only one week’s break… Anna’s going on a well earned holiday and will be back the following week. However, because of my attachment wounds, the relational trauma, the abandonment issues… therapy breaks always push me into the corners of my mind. It really accentuates how fragmented my internal reality is. The way my body/mind seems to hold several very different (often opposing) ideas/thoughts/feelings.

Tucked away in a deep, dark corner there’s a young part of me that’s felt very sad about Anna’s approaching holiday. Like she’s abandoning me. The overwhelming sense of being alone and on the outside. I wrote a couple of posts about it on Instagram… the feeling of being outside the therapy room and looking in at her empty chair. Wanting to curl up into a tiny ball on her chair and sob my heart out… the idea of being outside her family and looking in, longing to be embraced by her as if she were my mother. The familiar feeling of not being wanted, not being loved.

Leaning over the banister overlooking that child, there is an anger and resistance … it feels teen like. This part is furious at me for all the things I talked about last week. She’s shouting, ‘you’re an idiot, you should never have said that, you betrayed mum and dad, Anna will know you’re a terrible person, you’re disgusting, you make me sick, you should have kept quiet… get over it… stop going on about it, stop crying you fucking freak, what the hell is wrong with you, you push everyone away, no one will ever love you, no wonder she’s taking a break, she needs to get the hell away from you, you’re so intense, she’ll probably never come back you should probably just quit to save the last bit of dignity you have left…’ That kind of thing. It’s not pleasant.

Resting somewhere mid/foreground, there’s an ever strengthening adult part who is slowly flexing and stretching her muscles… she is gently, tentatively reassuring the anger that it’s okay to trust Anna. That the anger (and the underlying fear it’s masking) is understandable… it makes sense considering the betrayals and neglected needs of childhood… That it’s okay to talk about these things. That nothing bad is going to happen if I open up and share the secrets I’ve kept inside me for all these years. That Anna will not reject or abandon me because of what I told her. That no one will punish me for sharing.

In the hours running up to the session I actually felt good. I’ve been very busy with work and focusing all my attention on that during the day. I had also made the decision to not go deeply into things with Anna because of the missed session next week. Instead I thought we could talk about family life, little niggles, my husband and our relationship… day to day stuff that often gets ignored because there is always something bigger and muddier to delve into with Anna.

I was so pleased to see Anna tonight. I have so much warmth and affection for her, it hits me as soon as I turn the corner into her room. The way she behaves with me. That she intentionally smiles when she sees me (since I told her that when she greets me with a straight face it makes a part of me freak out thinking she’s angry with me or sick of me and sends the whole session into turmoil). I love her quirky dress sense and that I can tell she loves clothes and shoes by how many different items I’ve seen her in over the months. That she sometimes has a new candle on at the start of my session, that I can see she only just lit it and I wonder if she’s bought it with me in mind, to help ground me.

I explained that I wanted to keep things light and told her why. She agreed and congratulated me on the self-care I was affording myself. She did say she wanted to honour the ‘kickback’ I’d felt after the last session to help minimise the chances of it happening again. We talked about the critical voice and how I had brought myself back from the slippery slope of self-hate (that can so rapidly lead to self-harm). I talked about how I’d called on my learned knowledge of mindfulness. How we can train ourselves to observe and ‘notice’ the thoughts and feelings as opposed to ‘being in’ them. That once I had brought my awareness to the thoughts and feelings I was able to feel detached from them in an observer role. I could then give myself advice on how to deal with feeling so guilty and angry. She was so proud of me, she beamed. She told me, ‘well done, you really looked after yourself, you couldn’t have done that 6 months ago… well done!’ I thanked her. She wrote a lot of notes at that point and I wondered how she was wording what we just talked about.

I briefly mentioned my friends funeral that I attended a few days ago. We talked about how hard it was but that it was manageable. That since feeling my feelings more, I am less overwhelmed by funerals. I used to cry uncontrollably throughout and after funerals. As if it was the only time I thought it was socially acceptable to cry so I would finally let out all of the crying I’d held in for years. This time it didn’t feel like there was a heaving body of water behind a rickety old dam. This time it felt like the tears I shed were actually for my friend, because I have been shedding the built up tears of my own grieving bit by bit, every day.

Something really magical and amazing happened about a third of the way through the session. We refocused back onto the agenda for the session and at one point when I was talking about a few things that have been happening this week, Anna and I got the giggles. It started with me finding an anecdote about my kids amusing. I saw the ridiculousness of how annoyed my husband had been at the situation and then couldn’t ‘unsee’ how silly it was. Then I told her another story with the intention of trying to get to the bottom of why my husband gets so quickly frustrated with these things and why I find his frustration so annoying. The content of what I was saying wasn’t funny at all but it really tickled us both. It quickly escalated to the point where Anna and I were silently in hysterics, tears rolling down our faces, sharing glances at each other with smiles and tissues wiping the tears… it was so beautiful. I’ve never experienced laughter with her like that before. I’ve done the whole ‘deflecting the pain with black humour’ type laughter… but never have I shared a moment with her where we are both belly laughing. Every time we settled ourselves and I tried to start again something else would set us off. She said, ‘it’s so great to see you laughing, Lucy!’ and I said, ‘its really lovely to laugh with you.’ It felt just as intimate as the moments when I have been confessing my deepest secrets, crawling in shame, only this time I didn’t want to hide from her.

When I was a child, if I found things funny my mum would tell me to stop being silly or she’d take it personally thinking my brother and I were making fun of her. I’d be sent to my room or shouted at, told to go away… I remember trying very hard to supress my joy, just like I supressed other emotions in front of her. This evening, with Anna (who momentarily will be graced with the nickname ‘therapy mum’) I just let it all pour out of me. It felt so connecting and authentic. There was no need to analyse or interpret the laughter, we just let it be there between us. There’s something so powerful about knowing the person you’re with is feeling the same thing you’re feeling. No resistance, no defensiveness, no shaming or belittling… just an open, loving willingness to connect to your feelings and share the experience. I felt like an energetic, excited kid relishing in (therapy) mums attention and love. I felt like she was enjoying me tonight… that’s a new feeling.

I have quite a long drive home from my sessions and often that gives me time to reflect in an adult headspace (I have to stay in adult because I’m driving!)… tonight I thought about how the session was metaphorically like taking a holiday from the relentless hamster wheel of in depth therapy. It felt like after months and months of being submerged in the thick black depths of the ocean of my mind, we were coming up for air. Just briefly, together. Glancing at each other across the surface of the water, smiling at how far we’ve come, how attached and connected we are, before plunging again into the great unknown.

I reflected on how I never shared this carefree joy with my mother and although there’s a slight sadness there for the child who missed out on this, there’s also a sadness for my mother. I at least have experienced these joys in other relationships, I’m not sure she ever has.

Lastly, when I got home, I reflected on how this joyful interlude can be in some way transplanted into my ‘real life’ relationships. I thought about how my husband and I get so bogged down by family life sometimes, the mess and the constant daily chores, the nagging and the exhaustion. I thought about how once in a while we should allow our playful, joyful sides up for air – to laugh at these things as they are happening… the ridiculousness of life with young kids. To let the genuine, restorative love we have for each other spark a humorous interlude once in a while. Take a holiday from being ‘serious mum and dad’ and just laugh.

What a total joy it was to share this moment with Anna. To feel her accepting me and all that I bring to her, even if it’s not the most exciting, interesting ‘trauma’ she can sink her teeth into… I brought her raw, real connection and she gave me her authentic responses in return and that is what therapy is all about.

Hugging her at the end felt different to all the other times. I was completely grounded, no blurred edges, no floating, no dissociation. I felt my arms around her back, felt the fabric of her top rucked beneath my palms. I rested my face on her shoulder, smelt her perfume, felt her arms round me, felt her breathing against me. She said again, ‘it was so lovely to laugh with you,’ as she held me, and I felt it.

The Therapy Relationship and the Rooms in My Mind

I’ve been missing Paul (my last therapist) the past few days. I started working with him over 6 years ago and we worked together for 3 years. We didn’t have a proper end to our work for a few reasons… one being that he isn’t particularly good at endings… another is that I had my second child and couldn’t afford therapy while on maternity leave. When I was ready to come back to him I discovered he’d stopped working in the city I saw him. So that was it… we had a final Skype session a couple of months into me working with Anna and I said goodbye then. Paul told me he would always be my therapist and the door was always open to me but I really needed to feel the closing. I needed to feel an end. For as long as the door was open, the grief couldn’t happen. I’m still not fully there even though it’s been three years since I last saw him. It comes up with Anna every so often… the grief I need to process.

I reverted back to an old favourite self-destructive cycle today of casually browsing through his daughter’s social media account and felt myself slip into a familiar pattern of comparisons and jealousy. I guess if I try to see things from a distance – my therapy relationship with him wasn’t always therapeutic. Sometimes it was painful and retraumatising. There’s something about me, my history, my attachment wounds that makes me desperately need very firm boundaries. I didn’t know that about myself 6 years ago and so when Paul presented me with a very relaxed model of therapy (sharing many details about his personal life with me) I dove head first into the delicious sea of self disclosures, swimming in the idea that it somehow made me special or unique because he told me these things… ignoring the pain it conjured up or worse, blaming and shaming myself for the pain. Now I have experienced a very different therapy model (Anna doesn’t share anything about her personal life, the only self disclosing she freely gifts me is her authentic emotional responses and even then I am very aware she is constantly considering whether it is beneficial to my therapy for her to disclose).

Today the pain of missing Paul got the better of me and I started reading over old therapy notes from our sessions. It makes my heart ache because there is a part of me that loves him still so much and desperately wants to go to him now. Reading it back is interesting, I would do things differently now if I started working with him today. I thought I would share some of the notes here. This one is from June 2013. Almost exactly 6 years ago. I’d been working with Paul for 4 months.

We were in a different room today; it was a brighter, smaller room with a view out onto the skyline of the city. I stood at the window for a couple of minutes looking down at all the roof tops and people below. The other room has a small roof window that you can only see sky out of so it was nice to get a sense of where we were in the world. Paul explained why he had to move, something to do with a new colleague but I was too busy dealing with feeling anxious about the change of room and worrying about which seat to sit in and what each seat decision would say about me that I missed his explanation. I overanalyse everything in my head…. wondering what he is thinking about me. It’s exhausting. Paul said that he received my emails and that the first one was quite long and he didn’t thoroughly read all of it. I cringed and apologised and he said –‘no, no don’t apologise it’s absolutely fine, I said you could email me and I know it is a great therapeutic tool for you – you can email me whenever you want and I don’t want you to feel bad. When I have the time I really enjoy reading your emails – you’re a good writer – in fact I’ve only had two other clients who were as good at writing as you and they are both writers themselves.’ I thanked him and was a bit taken aback, I said I was embarrassed about needing to write such long emails and he asked why. I said I hated being so needy and that I imagine he feels burdened and dreads seeing my name pop up in his inbox. He thought for a bit and said he didn’t feel burdened at all. That feeling burdened was a choice and that he doesn’t push himself harder than he is capable of. He said he is marking for the SQA at the moment so he has less time for emails but still checks his emails every other day. He said, ‘you are paying for this service Lucy, it’s your therapy to use as you need it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m paying for this hour a week not for you to spend your personal time looking at my emails,’ I joked about my brother teasing me about Paul telling his wife to cancel their weekend appointments because he received an email from Lucy King. He laughed and said, ‘You’re not quite that bad! I am glad my other 20 clients don’t email me though I have to say…’ I said, ‘What? Seriously? I’m the only one who emails you?’ and he said, ‘Well, yeah they email to arrange appointments and maybe run a couple of things by me but no they don’t email like you do…’ I couldn’t believe it – I was mortified but he said it was fine and that it obviously was cathartic for me to get it all out. He suggested that when I have a particularly important email I could print it off and highlight the important bits and bring it to session. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the ego but a part of me loves that I’m the only one who emails him like I do. That he sits and reads my words. That I will be forever known in his mind as the client who sent very long emails… not sure even what I mean by that… that I want to be remembered? That I want to be special? That I want to stand out in some way…? Maybe if I’m unique, interesting, special in some way then he wont want to stop working with me…?

So Paul then asked, ‘How’s things?’ and I paused for a while and looked out the window… ‘not great to be honest…’ He looked curious and I started to explain, ‘I have had a great week, really lovely catch up with friends, great weekend in the garden and a bbq with friends… lovely week… then I met up with dad yesterday and that put me back to square one! I don’t know how he still manages to do this. I thought that after bringing him to a therapy session things would change. Dad had suggested we meet up for lunch and stupidly I looked forward to it, I thought it would be nice. I arrive and all goes fine but he seems distant (I look up and Paul is nodding with a pensive look on his face, absorbed in my story), I just presumed it was because he just came from work. We make small talk and it’s a bit awkward. We talk about the weekend and talk about my daughter, we eat, he then asks about therapy. (I look up again and say, ‘you know it really annoys me that he still askes about therapy – why does he care? He doesn’t own it any more… he only paid for the first 3 sessions!’  Paul says, ‘it is none of his business and you don’t need to share any of it with him’). Dad then asked in so many words why therapy is taking so long, he says he thought it would just be ten or fifteen sessions. I told him I have a lot more to work through than I thought.’ I then went on to detail the rest of my lunch with dad, I explained that I told dad that it upsets me how mum still has the power to affect me just by being her. Dad told me there has to come a point where I get all I need from myself and stop looking to others to change how I feel. He didn’t understand so I changed the subject to asking him about work which in turn made him ask about my work.

‘I talked about how I’m not enjoying teaching at the moment. That the thought of teaching until I am nearly 70 feels like a life sentence. It is stressful and makes me more anxious, I have been looking into ways that I can do a little more learning and change career or something. But dad just said that everyone thinks their job is stressful and that very few people enjoy what they do and in fact it took him over twenty years before he enjoyed his job and that I should write a list of all the things I like about my job because I’d probably find that I wouldn’t get a better one.’ Paul then said, ‘it’s interesting that he didn’t say anything affirming there…’ I said, ‘I think he was only ever proud of me because I got a degree and became a teacher, I don’t think he would know how to feel about me if I changed career.’

I told Paul that I had explained to dad that I knew the pros and cons of my job, that it was pretty depressing to stay in a job because you get long holidays – that the plus side of your job is the times you aren’t in work. That I asked dad if he could imagine when he was 29 being told he would never earn any more money than what he earned at that point. Then he suggested going for promotion. I said the thing I love about teaching is the kids and being a head teacher I would spend no time with the kids.

I said to Paul, ‘I mean, it’s like he knows nothing about me… then dad said, ‘this was the problem with your mother, she was never happy, no matter what job she had or where we lived, nothing made her happy she always wanted something different…’ I just didn’t know what to say!’ Paul looked all kind of contemplative and screwed his face up a bit, ‘That makes me so angry!’ He said, ‘Doesn’t he realise that all his daughter needs is a hug and to be told she can do whatever she puts her mind to… you’re nothing like your mother Lucy, I could have told you in your first session that you are nothing like her, I think his comparison there is because of this issue he has where he unconsciously has merged you with your mum – he can’t see you are a separate person.’ I said, ‘well he should know me – he should know! It’s like he is trying to hurt me…’ Paul said, ‘I don’t think he has the capacity to see how other people are feeling, Lucy. If you were my daughter I would NEVER say anything like that to you… it is very easy to affirm you and validate you because it is true, you deserved better…’ I could have melted into the energy of the room… ‘if you were my daughter…’ that sentence makes my heart hurt. I looked away to stop myself from connecting fully to his compassionate eyes and losing it completely. I composed myself and finished the rest of my story about lunch with dad. ‘I told dad that I thought that if someone he respected like his wife told him she was thinking of a career change he would listen and take it seriously, he would ask what she didn’t like about the job and tell her she should follow what she enjoys but I felt that he was telling me I couldn’t get anything better than what I’ve got and I am just like my mother. Dad then said, ‘I didn’t say that… I said none of that. I wasn’t comparing you to your mother.’ I asked, ‘what was the purpose of bringing her up then?’ and he said, ‘what’s the point in me answering that?’ I said, ‘so I can understand you better,’ and he replied ‘we’re just digging ourselves deeper into this hole we’re in so we should stop talking about it.’  It makes me feel crazy, these kinds of conversations. I’m not allowed to have a response that contradicts his opinions… he literally wont let the interaction continue. So there was about 5 minutes of silence then I started getting my daughers coat on. I said, ‘with all due respect I am not going to waste 25 years of my life hating my job in the faint hope that by the time I am in my mid-fifties I might enjoy it. I am the main bread winner and want to not only enjoy and further my career opportunities but also widen the possibility that my family could have more money coming in, I do not make decisions lightly.’ Paul looked very serious and said, ‘you are nothing like your mother Lucy. You have been teaching all your adult life and have been with your husband for 12 years – you are a considered and stable person who commits to things.’ I nodded and just felt such deep sadness for the fact that this man I have only met for an hour or so a week for a few months knows me better than my own father. I told Paul that dad had said that I should count my blessings. I have a great husband and daughter. That it made me angry when people say I’ve to be grateful for the small mercy of other people enriching my life rather than being proud for the things I have worked damn hard at achieving, maintaining and improving.

I told Paul that I cried my eyes out all the way home. That I felt like such a fool. That at this present moment I want nothing to do with both mum and dad. They bring nothing positive to my life, just heartache and disappointment.

Paul said he resented dads comment about Paul encouraging me to take on more and more sessions. He said, ‘not only is he suggesting that I am unprofessional enough to lead you on like that but he is also implying you are stupid enough to be manipulated by me… I’m feeling angry and resentful about that,’ I said I was sorry that dad made him feel like that but it was good to hear because I was angry too. I said, ‘after we had the session with dad I asked him what he thought of you and dad said, ‘he’s a lot older than I thought’… I hadn’t told you about that because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings but I now realise your feelings wouldn’t be hurt because you don’t care about dad.’ Paul nodded and said, ‘he was just putting down your experience, belittling it… when the three of us were working together, I got the feeling that he was very intimidated by me and how in tune we are, that we have a connection, he probably felt threatened.’ I agreed and said, ‘I then asked dad what he thought of you as a person and dad said, ‘well he obviously cares a great deal about you!’ and I felt a mix of emotions, I felt happy because of course I want you to care about me but I felt sad because I want dad to care about me too, want him to care about me more…’ Paul said, ‘I just wonder though if your dad just doesn’t have the capacity to care about anyone other than himself, if all he is thinking is ‘how am I?’ then he won’t even consider anyone else.’ I said that made me sad and that’s what makes me wish I’d never started therapy because this feeling is so painful, knowing what it feels like to get it from Paul and knowing I will never feel that from my own dad. I said, ‘It’s just… well… it’s a shame, you know?’ and Paul said, ‘it’s a crying shame, that’s what unconditional positive regard is all about. You deserve nothing less.’ I said, ‘can you honestly say that with all the clients you’ve ever had you have always managed to have completely unconditional positive regard for them?’ and he thought for a bit and said that he was certainly aware of his judgements and prejudices so he doesn’t let it affect how he is with clients. He said, ‘I’ve been working in mental health for so long now it does come a lot easier than it used to. I remember one client when I first started doing this, I asked her at the end of what I thought was a great session if she thought it went well and she said, ‘no, I thought you were really judgemental…’ and she walked out and never came back. I learned a lot from that.’ I asked Paul if he agreed with her and he again thought for a bit like he always does, really considers his answers, then said, ‘no I didn’t agree with her but it taught me that your perceptions of things often differ from the clients.’ I said, ‘it was obviously her issue then,’ and he said, ‘yeah but o#I could have handled it differently…’ He said he has been trained to be aware of his reactions and why he feels certain ways.

I said that I was sick of constantly letting my dad hurt me, that I thought I was over all this and Paul said, ‘I thought you were too, I thought you had moved on from your dad and we were going to start talking about your mum,’ I replied, ‘well I guess this was a test about just how over it all I was. I failed big time because I still do care.’ Paul said, ‘do you think that you wish you’d never come to therapy because you think nothing has changed? You are still the same but many people believe they must change or get fixed in therapy but that’s not the case we are actually all fine we just need to learn to live with what we have,’ I said, ‘no, I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I am getting much better at expressing how I feel, better at accepting how I feel for example I am currently feeling that anxious pain that I get in my chest (he later explained again that was fight or flight) and instead of hating myself for feeling like that and believing there is something wrong with me, I now just think I have this feeling, that it’s probably quite understandable that I feel like that because of what we are talking about and I just carry on with what I’m doing.’ Paul said, ‘that’s interesting, good, that’s good…’ I explained that after dad’s lunch I felt really awful and would normally have swallowed the feeling down and just got on with my day not really knowing how I felt but yesterday after dad I just let myself feel sad. I cried and cried until I was done crying.

I said, ‘I just don’t know why I keep going back – why don’t I just refuse to have a relationship with them? I feel like such a fool.’ Paul said, ‘All humans live with hope – that’s what makes us human, but we are actually very self-destructive as a species and I don’t mean physically I mean we worry and think and can be very negative about ourselves and if our situation is more than our system can tolerate then we turn to physical ways of self-destruction like drinking or other ways… like you experienced,’ He talked about the need for balance and quiet in our minds, the effort we must put into trying to balance our thoughts. He said, ‘At work as a teacher you must see the children who are constantly ill because their bodies are trying to cope with this high level of hormones and chemicals that they’re producing to attempt to manage their anxiety?’ I said that I was always ill as a child, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I had a really bad attendance rate.

We talked a bit about how perceptions of things change over time. I said, ‘I think the biggest thing that has changed is that I used to have this stupid hope that things would get better or would have this expectation of what I thought mum and dad could be – that if only I could adapt myself enough and change who I am to fit in with what they would need and like then they would change. The difference now is that I can see that they can’t be what I want and it makes me really sad – like a grief.’ Paul said it was interesting I chose those words – that I used to be in denial and now I was grieving a relationship that never existed but that I’d always thought was possible. He explained about his own mum, that he doesn’t always get closeness from talking to people but sometimes just spending time with them, sometimes in silence, can feel intimate. That Paul and his mum speak a different language but he still feels close to her – he would just never talk about something emotional with her. He said he had always wished his relationship with his dad had been something more and that he had always had that feeling about his grandfather as well, that he wished their relationship could have been more than it was, but he didn’t think his grandfather understood what him – he said it was a sad time. I felt like Paul really connected with me and what I was going through. I love that he shares parts of himself with me.

I said I was sick of feeling like this irritating yappy dog that’s constantly leaping about and seeking love and attention, ‘love me love me love me…’ it’s humiliating… and all they’ve ever done is turn away from me. Paul said, ‘I’m really interested in your analogy about feeling like a wee yappy dog because it clearly illustrates how you feel and I think it’s about time you made the decision that you are no longer going to put your all into those relationships. You need to see that your parents are just two people, that they will not meet your very low and reasonable expectations. You have very validating relationships with Dave (husband), your friends and your Daniel (brother)… you’ve talked about him quite a bit and he sounds like a really positive influence in your life.’ I said, ‘yeah I’m so fortunate to have him in my life – if I had to go through all the crap with mum and dad just to get him in my life then I guess it was worth it.’ Paul smiled and said, ‘well that’s a really great way to look at it isn’t it, I mean if you didn’t have the parents you had you wouldn’t be you, I mean I know there are parts of yourself that you don’t like but there are plenty of things I’m sure you do like and you just wouldn’t be you, Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel, if you hadn’t had your mum and your dad… that’s a really interesting way to look at your experience isn’t it?’ I agreed and said that I can’t think of many things I like at the moment but that yes – I wouldn’t be me and Daniel wouldn’t be Daniel without our parents.

Somehow we got to talking about some of the techniques he’s taught me like the mindfulness meditation. I said that I was finding the meditation really helpful, that I feel like I’ve had a sleep after just 10 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation. He said it’s like a brain nap – that he loves it, loves clearing his mind. He said, ‘one day a few weeks ago I did the initial mindfulness meditation with five clients – in one day – I was so relaxed!’ I laughed and so did he, he said, ‘it was a bit of a cop-out, can’t do that every day!’ I said, ‘the initial time we did it I don’t think I was capable of doing it right though, it was a bit odd,’ Paul said, ‘yeah I’ve had a few clients who won’t do it with me in the room, one client told me, ‘there’s no way I’m doing that with you, it’s weird!’ He explained it is pretty intimate and you have to be very trusting to close your eyes and experience that with someone. I said, ‘well when we did it I did peek at you a few times!’ and he laughed again, I said, ‘I think that was the main benefit of the exercise actually – it wasn’t about the meditation it was about learning that I could trust you.’

I had been watching the clock all session as I usually do but by this point we were past the hour and Paul was still nestled in his seat looking pretty comfortable so I figured I could let him be in charge of the time keeping. (Interestingly when we did get to the end of the session after an hour and a half he started to wind the conversation up by asking the usual, ‘how did you find today then?’ and I stood up as I normally do and we then continued talking with me standing and him sitting for a further ten minutes. That often happens – I think I end things by standing up first so I feel in control and not rejected – I’m sure he is probably very aware of whatever reason it is that I do it). Paul said that he was going on holiday the first week of July (same as us) and that they were visiting the Scottish Isles (also a coincidence as we are going to Orkney). I said, ‘That’s a bit different from the Caribbean then…’ and he said, ‘well yeah it’s my brother in law who owns a hotel and restaurant out there, it is great and we get everything for free but the flights are extortionate and we just don’t have the money at the moment to fly 3 kids out there. I also feel a bit indebted to him and although they’re family I would rather not owe them anything. Plus I don’t think they like how opinionated I can be – they didn’t speak to me for two days on one trip because I said something they didn’t like,’ That made me laugh a lot. I have such a hunger to be part of his life. I want to know it all. I want to be in it with him. Oh my god I don’t know why I feel like this but it feels so good and so awful all at once.

We made some more small talk. He said I must be looking forward to my long holiday, talked a bit about how being a therapist is a really rewarding job. We talked a bit about the value of siblings and how he loves to hear his wee gang of kids rallying together. He mentioned a couple of books – one by John Cleese about surviving families and another about compassion. I showed him the book I am reading about the power of validation. He talked a bit about mental health and I said that everyone in Britain seems depressed. Paul said, ‘when I lived in Sweden I saw people with serious mental health issues in the street every day because they don’t over medicate out there like they do here… all sorts of people are just accepted and welcome in society. We numb everyone down over here…’ He continued, ‘I’ve always attracted people with mental health problems, I remember being in a bar at a music festival in the 70’s when a guy walked through the whole bar pushing his way through the crowd towards me. I take a sip of my pint and then the guy gets to me and says, ‘I’m a schizophrenic’ haha – it’s like he searched the whole place for me. That has happened a lot in my life.’ I said, ‘So you just thought I might as well be getting paid for this!’ and he laughed and said, ‘Yeah that’s exactly it.’

We got organised to leave and Paul started to walk me down the stairs to the main entrance. He saw me to my car and said he’d enjoyed talking to me today. I said I did too and that I looked forward to the sessions. I said I’d try to limit the emails this week and he smiled and said he looked forward to his bit of extra light reading. I drove away and felt better than I did when I arrived but also something else sitting in the pit of my stomach and in my chest… a sadness… maybe that I want so much more than I can ever really have from him. A feeling of dread at what I’ve started by walking into his office four months ago. Maybe healing is meant to hurt this much.

So… that was fairly long! If you made it through to the end then I applaud you… thank you!

I have a lot more psychological insight now than I did back then. I understand myself on a deeper level. I know about attachment pain, ego states, transference, counter transference, boundaries, projection, holding, containment… all of the behind the scenes things that make us tick, that make therapy what it is. I definitely have more to learn but I also want to acknowledge how much has changed in me. I’ve been feeling confused about the work I did with Paul – was it too ‘shallow’, why did we avoid so many topics, why did we talk so much about him, how do I feel about the lack of time boundaries and his self disclosures. I’ve talked a lot to Daniel about my experiences with Paul and the work I’m currently doing with Anna. He said these words to me… ‘People don’t come into our lives by chance Lucy. You were meant to work with Paul and you were meant to work with Anna. Perhaps Paul came along at a time when you needed to be shown you are loveable. That you are worthy of the extra time and bending of the boundaries, that you are not and were never too much, that something extraordinary about you made Paul want to work with you in an extraordinary way… and now you are stronger and now there is a part of you who believes you’re worthy, you can let Anna teach you about tolerating the deep emotional pain you’ve pushed away all your life.’ Perhaps he’s right. I know I couldn’t have done the work I’m doing now back then. The doors to those rooms in my mind and my soul were locked and I didn’t have the keys. Now with Anna I’m slowly sorting through the very complicated entry system within myself and braving what’s inside every room. One door at a time.

Dissociation

I have googled ‘what is dissociation’ probably a hundred times. Mostly in the first year of therapy. I think it’s some sort of validation I was looking for. To feel ‘seen’ in the words I read. The most validating thing I’ve read about dissociation were the words, ‘dissociation is as unique as the person experiencing it’… I don’t remember where I read it but it helped me breath a little. I’m very good at belittling myself, criticising and questioning myself. So any time I read about someone else’s experience that sounded different to mine I would immediately start to attack myself – what is wrong with me – why do I not experience it like that – why am I like this?

We were very early on in our sessions. Maybe session 6 or 7. I was 40 feet under the thick, dense grime of attachment hell already. I was so textbook. My journey with Paul lasted almost 3 years and in that time I read and researched and fed my brain with as much information as I could. But back at session 6 or 7 I didn’t really know that much. I just knew that I loved him more than I’d ever loved anyone before and that terrified me.

I was going out of my mind. Tormented by nightmares that had resurfaced after our first session and what I now know were flashbacks. I felt like I was going mad… so much worse than I was before I met Paul. I needed to fix myself and it needed to happen sooner rather than later. Session 6 or 7. I started talking to him about something very traumatic that had happened to me when I was 14. It just started to pour out of me. I had never said the words outloud before. I was desperate to purge myself of the story. It felt like when you drink so much alcohol that you have no choice but to make yourself sick. I wanted to vomit the pain out of me like I had spent years attempting to cut the pain out of me.

I was talking and must have been getting distressed. I remember Paul saying, ‘you don’t need to keep going, you don’t need to tell me this.’ I was determined, ‘don’t make me keep it inside me any longer…!’ He said, ‘I think I can work out what happened, you don’t need to go on.’ I now know that he was trying his best to prevent me from retraumatising myself. He wanted to keep me within my window of tolerance. He didn’t want me to go where I hadn’t been before… after just 6 hours of working together. Then something happened. I slipped back into a space that was completely alien and completely familiar to me. I lost myself. Like falling. Or flying. Or both.

I spent almost all of my childhood numb. It feels like an exaggeration but I’m fairly certain it’s accurate. Not all of the time and not to every emotion but to a lot of them – for a large amount of time I was switched off. At 29, I found myself in a room with a man who I felt a powerful love for (which I now understand was my attachment wound leaking all over me). Having him care for me, listening to me say words that I never wanted to say or admit to… feelings surfaced that I had blocked out for all of my life. It was too much for my system and I short circuited.

I found myself at home, exhausted and confused. I sent Paul a long email. ‘I don’t understand what happened… I can’t cope with this, it all feels too much… why can’t I remember the rest of the session, I don’t remember leaving your office…?’ he sent me an email back and told me he understood it was a very difficult session for me and that he was attaching some information that might help me understand… and that he would see me next week. The information was on dissociation. I don’t even remember what I felt. Ashamed maybe. Embarrassed. Confused. We didn’t talk much about it after that and I rarely ventured into vulnerable territory again with Paul. Not about that particular topic anyway. It’s not that I didn’t trust him, he was an excellent therapist. He was able to help me deal with so much of what I was struggling with but he wasn’t the right person to help me with the core stuff. For that I would have to wait a further 5 years to meet Anna.

Last week I had session number 70 with Anna. 70 hours plus a few phone calls dotted in between. She understands trauma and dissociation. She watches me. She seems to know when I am treading near the landmines and will ask me questions like, ‘how are you doing with this?’ or ‘what’s going on for you in here?’ while pointing to her chest or stomach. Sometimes, when I go quiet for slightly longer than usual, she will pause what she’s writing and glance her eyes up at me, checking. I can’t seem to say the word dissociate in the session. It’s drenched in shame. Anna has said it but I just can’t. In the rare moments that I feel the tide of disconnection coming before I drown in it I tell her I feel ‘weird’ or ‘spacey’ and then she knows and guides me through some grounding exercises. During the deepest dissociative moment with her I somehow asked for a hug and it was almost like her whole nervous system grounded me as she held me.

I drew a picture to help me process what dissociation feels like for me and to help me explain it to Anna. She pointed at the balloons and the space behind the balloons and said, ‘this is safe… here… this is safety?’ I nodded. She pointed to the burning river of lava between our feet and asked what it was. ‘Disconnection.’ I said. ‘Either you get too close to the pain and the crevasse appears and I leave the session in my mind… or in some way you miss me and the crevasse opens up and I can’t help but leave.’

She pointed to the space between us in the picture and asked, ‘what can I do to help make this space safe?’ I couldn’t come up with anything. The hardest question in the world seems to be, ‘what do you need?’ She changed the her wording slightly, ‘I wonder if you would be willing to share with me any time you feel that crevasse opening… any time I make this space unsafe. Do you think you would be prepared to share that with me?’ I nodded. She pointed to my body in the drawing, the part where the arms and neck are attached to the shoulders and said, ‘when you feel this unreal, I’d invite you to let me know. I know it might be hard to put into words when it’s happening but it’s important we learn your triggers and if we can trace back to what was said or what happened just before the dissociation then I’ll be more able to support you.’

If there’s a way to hold someone without actually touching them then that’s what Anna was doing in that moment. I felt very held.

I know dissociation was borne from the need for protection. I know it served it’s purpose and makes perfect sense considering my life experiences. I also know that it is now getting in the way of deep connection and healing. But there is something intoxicating about it’s powerful drag into the abyss. I am both drawn towards it and repelled away from it. Much like my attachment style. The push and pull. A need for love and a fear of it. Anna explains that we will work on this very slowly, at the pace of a child, one step at a time. She tells me that ‘feeling’ even just for ten minutes in the session and then catching myself before I fully dissociate is a huge achievement that I should be proud of (and that there’s no shame if I do disconnect). She explains, ‘As we nudge the edges of your window of tolerance they will widen and you will be able to cope with more exposure to the pain and connection.’ She tells me to be patient and compassionate with myself. Which always feels easier said than done.