The Pain of Self Discovery

Tonight’s session was bloody hard.

Understatement.

Felt like I was holding my heart on the outside of my body.

As she held space for me.

The very soul of me was crying out.

All I could manage was a solitary tear,

Escaping down my cheek.

Choking in my throat.

Filling up my empty chest cavity.

So much pain, feels like more than any one person could contain.

Feelings held captive for decades.

I do hope I have the strength to see this through. I couldn’t live in this space for long.

Seek connection

I have a friend, Jen. I met Jen when I was 12 and we were friends until we left school at 17 when we went our separate ways. As kids, my perception of Jen was that she was a high achiever, super happy (all the time), loving family, parents happily married, she was innocent, had lots of lovely innocent high achieving friends. I liked her but knowing her hurt so much. So I picked on her, teased her. I was very unkind at times. I was happy to see the back of her when school finished. When I was in my late twenties I got back in touch with her. I wanted to apologise for how I’d treated her. Turns out she’d become a therapist. And she didn’t remember school like I did. She said she found me very funny. That a couple of our other friends make her very unhappy but she always liked spending time with me. She thought I was cool, interesting and had good taste in music and apparently a depth to me that she wished she had. I told her that depth is called trauma and we laughed… sometimes it’s all you can do! So since leaving school she had a breakdown and then spent a lot of time working on herself personally and then went into the job of helping others. She was pleased I’d got in touch with her. We’ve been good friends ever since, talked at length about life at school, our childhoods, adulthood… therapy.

So, I haven’t seen her in four months. The past 5 times we’ve arranged a catch up, Jen has cancelled. All different reasons. Two of the times she told me she was burnt out and very tearful and just couldn’t see anyone. I know she has a tendency to avoid. To withdraw and move away. I know she’s been depressed.

We arranged a catch up for today and this morning Jen cancelled an hour before she was due to be here. I had a feeling that she would cancel. I was gutted. I felt totally rejected. In her text she said she’d woken up feeling awful after a hard session with her therapist the previous day and was too tearful and fragile to see anyone today. Normally I ignore how I feel and just reply with something that I think will release her from any guilt she might feel. I end up saying that I hope she feels better soon and to get in touch whenever she wants. Because I know she identifies with an avoidant attachment style and I’m disorganised/preoccupied. I don’t want to hassle her, push her away with my neediness. But the truth is it hurts so much when she cancels. I can’t help but think it’s about me. She doesn’t want to be my friend anymore but is too ‘nice’ to tell me. I’ve had a couple of friends ghost me so it’s totally plausible she would want to leave. It triggers me in the same way I get triggered when Anna, my therapist cancels. Painful.

Today I did something I’ve never done before in this situation. I told her the truth. I sent her a message back saying, ‘Jen, please don’t withdraw from me. I accept you no matter what. Maybe push yourself into the discomfort of letting me be with you today. I can come to you, even just for an hour. You don’t have to be any particular way with me. I’m personally finding it really hard to deal with all the cancelled catch ups. Xx’

She replied straight away saying that I was right and she’d come to me.

She was at mine for 4 hours. We had an amazingly honest, authentic time together talking about everything that’s going on with us both. I told her how much it hurts when she pulls away from me. That I need connection. I need regular contact with my friends. I need to see that people want to be around me. That I’m not too much for them. She said that she’s been cancelling everyone, including her therapist until the session yesterday. She was so glad I had sent that text and so glad she came to see me. We talked about how hard it is to just sit inside ourselves. To ‘be’ in relationships. To figure out life. We have different attachment styles but there are overlaps. We both overthink. We both worry too much about what other people think. We both think we’re not good enough.

Today we were vulnerable with each other and we were each accepted by the other. I started to cry when talking about an early memory of one of the many times my mother rejected me. I’d not shared that memory before and I’ve not cried in front of a friend before. We both did something outside our comfort zone today.

We were honest and authentic. It was scary. Unfamiliar. But it was so worth it. I feel closer to her. She has seen that even in her most difficult times, she can still offer something to people and she can be accepted. The 4 hours was peppered with the usual laughs and jokes that only we ‘get’. In between the more serious conversations.

When the desire to run and hide washes over you… get curious… experiment with changing that behaviour (within a safe relationship) and move closer.

Seek connection.

We are broken in relationships and we heal in relationships.

Two Steps Forward (my experience with self harm)

 

Trigger Warning – graphic description of self-harming behaviour. Look after yourself and make a conscious decision about whether to read on or not.

 

This is the most detailed account of my self harm I’ve ever written. From the first moment, to now. 

 

It started when I was 14. I can remember very clearly. I was sitting at my desk in my bedroom with my homework laid out in front of me and my pencil case open and on it’s side, the contents spilling out. My dad had just slammed my door leaving me alone inside. Previously he had lost his temper at me because I was so stupid and couldn’t understand what he was trying to explain about the maths I was learning. I can see every line on his forehead, between his brows, right now as if he’s here. His finger pointing at me repeatedly and the spray of spit as he threw the words out at me. It was very quiet in my room in the moment after he left, as if the door sucked the life out of the space leaving a vacuum all around me. If I’m honest I don’t know what I was feeling. It will have been either completely numb emptiness or totally unbearable agony. Whichever it was, in that moment, I took the metal compasses out of my pencil case and dragged the sharp end across the skin on my forearm. That was nearly 22 years ago and I can still remember how good it felt. I did it again. I did it 8 or 9 times on that arm. Each time I watched the skin pucker, drag and tear open. I watched the dark red beads push their way out of the pinched lines. It felt relieving. Like the lifesaving gasp of a nearly drowned person who somehow managed to push their face against the edge of water into the air just in time. 

 

I remember noticing how it would sting when I washed. How the newly hardened lines, attempting to heal themselves, would resist against any pressure, catch on clothing. I would notice the feeling of the scabs beneath my cardigan sleeves at my school desk. I liked the reminder that they were there. A secret that only I knew.

 

I’d never known of self-harm before. I was aware of suicide. I remember when I was 8 years old a local mother threw herself off a bridge fifteen minutes from my house. She had four children. I remember hearing my mother telling us that the woman was really selfish. ‘What kind of mother does that to her kids?’ She said. The irony in that statement coming out of her mouth. I felt inside my soul, even at 8 years old, that my mother was wrong. That something more powerful had killed that woman. That she probably thought her kids were better off without her. I now know how those thoughts can consume you when you’re in the depths of despair. It’s the thoughts and the feelings that trick you into thinking death is the only cure. I knew a person could kill themselves wilfully, but I don’t believe I was consciously aware of people harming themselves on purpose. I’d certainly never heard of or seen intentional cuts on a person and growing up without the internet meant my world was quite small compared to kids of today who can access anything they want at the click of a button. I believed I was the only person to have ever done anything like that and I needed to keep it a secret.

 

After almost a year of sporadic moments of scratching, grazing, trapping and pinching various parts of myself in torturous ways, a friend noticed a scratch poking out of my sleeve. I told her it was my kitten. She looked at me then looked away. Later I discovered she went to my guidance teacher and told him what she’d seen but before that moment things became more intense and my warped coping strategies weren’t having the same affect. Much like a drug, I needed more. One day I noticed the art teacher restocking one of the drawers that held the paper craft supplies. During our lunch break I went back into the room, opened the drawer and stole a craft knife. It was cold and smooth in its shiny plastic sleeve. I slid it into my pocket and left the room. All day I was fixated on the idea that I had this knife in my pocket. I almost felt good, like I had a plan. I was excited about using it. I know how awful and twisted that sounds but I could easily liken it to lots of other vices people have that are more widely accepted in society… like looking forward to trying the bottle of wine you’ve got chilling in the fridge, or the cigarette you’ve been saving for your break, or an evening run… whatever gets you through. For me it was physical pain. 

 

The house was empty. I was in my bedroom listening to loud music. It was late. I remember studying the knife, cleaning it. I ran it lightly across my duvet cover with no pressure at all. Holding the end between my thumb and forefinger and leading it along the line of stitching. It sliced through the fabric with ease. I used a little more force and did the same to my forearm halfway between my wrist and my elbow. The tip of the blade slipped into my skin, disappearing, leaving a white line that parted and slowly filled with red. It dripped down on to my leg. I remember the head rush. I remember watching that first proper cut and thinking, ‘fuck that was so much sharper than I thought it was going to be!’ I didn’t feel it, it didn’t hurt. It was just much deeper than I had imagined. I was almost euphoric inside although looking back I was probably motionless and dull on the outside. I did one more cut, further in towards my elbow.  Watched the same parting of the skin, white inside, fine red line that slowly widens, fills up the trench, overflows and drips off the edge of my arm. I watched it, from a distance. There was a moment of panic when reality set in. A make shift bandage made with sports socks with the toes cut off. Lots of pressure and holding. Cleaning the knife. Cold rinsed my pyjamas to remove the blood. It was the first of a long lived love affair with the ‘looking after myself’ part of self harming. The steri-strips I bought, the large plasters, the creams and oils. All the ways I mothered the wounds I’d inflicted on myself. 

 

Shortly after that, my guidance teacher called me out of class. He sat me down and told me my friend had spoken to him. Asked to see my arms. None of this was ever done with the intention of sharing it with anyone. I was completely mortified. I couldn’t look at him. He firmly repeated his request and I rolled my sleeves up and pushed my arms across the table to him as if they weren’t attached to me. He looked at them and said, ‘oh, it’s not that bad…’ He said other things and in fact became an amazing source of comfort and a listening ear for my remaining years in school however that statement stayed with me for decades. ‘It’s not that bad’… I believe he was trying to reassure me, or maybe himself, that I obviously wasn’t trying to commit suicide or at least I wasn’t lacing every inch of my skin with lines… When I was 17 I briefly worked with a psychologist (that’s a whole other post) and when he asked to see my arms and I showed him I told him, ‘it’s okay, my guidance teacher says it’s not that bad,’ he looked at me right into my eyes and said, ‘Lucy, it is that bad. It is.’ In that moment I understood in my body what validation felt like and how I hadn’t even recognised when my guidance teacher had invalidated me because it was the only thing I knew growing up.

 

There came a time when my friend told her mum who phoned my mum and then she knew. There was also a time when my mum read my diary. She sobbed at me, ‘why are you doing this to me? Why are you making my life so much harder? Why are you so difficult?’ I learned to hide it again. She would occasionally demand to see my arms. I moved to other parts of my body.

 

I remember one of the times I planned to end my life. I’ll write about that in more detail another time. I sat on the floor of the shower for an age with the blade resting at the top of my wrist. Ready to race downwards. In the end I couldn’t do it. I chose to slice 17 long lines into my thigh. 17. ‘I’ve wasted 17 years of my life on you and now it’s my turn to have a life…’ One line for each of the 17 years my mother resentfully endured me. They were deep, long lines and when the fog lifted I was aware of the blanket of bloody running off my thigh, mixing with the shower water and flowing around me in a pink puddle. I frantically tried to stop the bleeding. I wrapped a towel round my leg. The red seeped through. In the end I needed help for that episode. 

 

I started dating my current husband not long after that. We moved in with each other a few months later and for some reason my inner life became even more chaotic – spilling out into the visible world. I’m yet to explore this part of my life in therapy so I don’t have a lot of introspection about it. I wonder if the parts of me that had been holding so tightly on to the pain for all of my life finally felt safe enough to let go a bit and it all began pouring out of me like a breaking dam. I would scream at him, hit him, slam doors, cry. I cried silently during sex. I would cut myself after sex. Lock myself in the bathroom and do it in a hurried, desperate way. He would kick the door open and plead with me to stop. After many months (probably a few years) of constant love, acceptance, patience and genuine affection from him I slowly softened. I formed a strong attachment with him and in that relationship I healed (I believe) as much as a person can heal in a relationship that is not therapeutic in nature. 

 

A couple of years in to university I made a commitment to stop self harming. 24 years old. Ten years after starting… and I never felt triggered in that time. Again, I’m yet to explore this part of my life in therapy so I don’t have a deep awareness of what was going on for me but I guess partly I was no longer living in an abusive house… maybe I was numb. Maybe my boyfriend and house and studies gave me a purpose. Maybe the alcohol and cigarettes and hash helped. I definitely know there have been many other ways I’ve hurt myself in my life other than cutting. Again, that’s for another post. 

 

At 29 years old I walked in to Paul’s office. The first session I gave him an overview of my life. I remember saying, ‘that’s when the self harming started’ in a very distanced way. He asked questions, made a similar comment to my guidance teacher when I showed him my arms. Said he had done his final papers at uni on self harm. We intellectualised. At one point he said, ‘I worked with a woman once who didn’t have a single piece of skin on her body that wasn’t scarred from self harming.’ This was before I became familiar with therapy jargon like, ‘worked with = client/patient’ and I said, ‘oh my god I would never want any of my colleagues to know I’d self harmed!’ I noticed an unfamiliar expression on his face that I later realised was the split second of him thinking, ‘she has misunderstood me, shall I correct her, no that will be too shaming I’ll leave it…’ I was mortified. A few weeks later I cut myself for the first time in 5 years. I wrote it on a piece of paper and it took me 40 minutes to give it to him in the session. He said, ‘I would usually contract that clients refrain from that while we’re working together as it defeats the purpose of therapy.’ I never spoke about it again… until Anna. 

 

Anna has encouraged an open dialogue about self harm to the point where I no longer feel shrouded in shame when I talk about it. There is still the panicked prickle of needing to hide if I’m having to tell her I’ve relapsed but I know she won’t shame me. I know she won’t belittle me. I know she is sitting with me in this recovery process, prepared to witness my journey.

 

 

When I drew the above picture and finally brought it to Anna I felt sick at the thought of sharing it. But it was important to explore all of the reasons why I did what I did… here is an excerpt from my notes taken after that session. 

 

‘I got the folder out and flicked through looking for the drawing. I saw it and closed the book again and thought about it… did I really want to share this? I flashed a cringey look at Anna and she said, ‘how about you just describe it to me to begin with? Rather than showing me, if that feels too much just now… would that be okay?’ I said, ‘no. because I know I would go home and be really annoyed with myself for not sharing.’ Anna smiled widely and said, ‘well done! Good… okay then…’ She nodded at the folder. She was so pleased that I knew myself enough to know how I would feel after the session. I pulled the drawing out and looked at it myself. I said, ‘it’s not physically accurate… it depicts what I wanted to do the other weekend but I dont do it like that anymore… well it is what I did when I was a teenager but I haven’t cut my arms in a long time…’ I took a breathe and handed it over to her. She asked me if it was to be read left to right and I said it didn’t matter. As soon as she started looking at the drawing I felt the need to be closer to her so I moved to the chair beside her. I folded one foot under the other leg and intermittently looked away at the window and then back at her face. Watching. She was looking at each of the sentences and taking in the whole drawing. She said something about the words being really powerful or moving or something. She said something about the drawing pin really striking her as being like a stabbing motion at all the things that I couldn’t hold on to – the hope, the kindness. She asked me if I still feel like this. I said I didn’t. I felt like that when I started working with her and all the teen feelings resurfaced again but I don’t feel that helpless and hopeless anymore. We talked about the other coping strategies I have now and how I can keep myself safe. 

 

I talked about how alone I felt back then – how alone and lost and totally lacking in other options I was. That all that kept me going some days was knowing I could go home and hurt myself. That I would osculate between feeling the worst feeling anyone could ever feel and then feeling nothing at all. Anna talked about how the cutting was a way to feel something. To have a physical representation of the pain I couldn’t express. She asked me how I felt she was being with me and I studied her face and replied, ‘you’re your usual calm self… I think we’re still okay, you don’t think any less of you.’ She said, ‘I am so proud of you in fact.’

 

I said that through the week I had thought about how for 20 years I’ve abandoned myself, not met my own needs. Not talked about this. When the child in me so desperately needed a witness. Anna suggested I forgive myself. She said, ‘this was a coping strategy when you felt you had no other option. You couldn’t talk to your mum about it, I’m sad you couldn’t talk to Paul about it, your husband knows about it but you haven’t really talked in any detail with him about it… I feel honoured that you trust me with this, that you feel you can talk to me about it.’

 

More recently I have talked to two friends about the self-harm in my past. One friend asked to see my scars and I showed her my arm. It was almost as if I was showing her an old bracelet I’ve had for years… nothing major. She didn’t reject or mock me… she’s still my friend! I’m finding there is room for me to show more of myself within my relationships and that some people are resilient enough to handle raw honesty. Those are the kinds of people I want in my life. Maybe raw honesty is the best filter for real friendship. Those who can’t cope don’t stick around!

 

It’s been two months since I last self harmed. And the time before that was a few months prior. Both of which were triggered by Anna cancelling a session… attachment wound rejection/abandonment stuff rearing it’s ugly head. Having the courage to talk about it with Anna gave me (and her) a huge insight into the things I struggle with, what triggers the younger more vulnerable parts who don’t remember healthy coping strategies and it enabled me to have restorative moments with her. To have her genuinely care for me and allow that feeling to go in. 

 

I still have obsessive thoughts about cutting. I still randomly google images every so often. I stare at the scars and can see them as they were twenty years before. But at the moment I feel more stable. A few feet back from the edge. I can see it but I’m not close enough for it to be a risk. I guess this is recovery. Slowly moving up and down the jagged line of progress. Two steps forward and one step back. Moving towards ‘better’… the journey is the important bit. 

I am UK based so can only offer suggetions within the UK – please seek support if you are struggling with any of the issues I’ve brought up.

There is help out there and YOU ARE WORTH IT.

A look at empathy

This is a muddled, multi dimensional look at my thoughts on empathy. Touching on what empathy is, empathy’s role in parenting and self-empathy.

Empathy is so powerful. I’ve learned that not everyone is capable of real empathy. I first truly felt it from my therapist and it hurt like hell. The grief of knowing what I had missed out on was unbearable. Being seen and heard, having someone completely empathise without demanding anything in return and without losing themselves in me. Wow. It is such an incredible gift to have and be able to give.

Empathy doesn’t judge or look to change. It doesn’t criticise or condemn. Empathy doesn’t ask for anything in return. Empathy respects and validates. The authenticity of true empathy can be felt. It is a healing wonder.

Empathy doesn’t say, ‘I agree with you’ it also doesn’t say, ‘I feel sorry for you’ it simply says, ‘I see you’.

When my kids hurt themselves, even if I think it’s not that sore to warrant the blood curdling cries, I don’t question the validity of their tears. I simply see them, ‘that was really sore, I saw you hurt yourself… that hurt so much…’ or just sit with them while they cry. If they’re crying or getting angry at me because I won’t let them watch more tv or have another biscuit I don’t tell them off for being demanding or spoilt. I don’t shut them in their room sending the message that their negative emotions are intolerable. I hear them out. ‘You’re really angry with me because I won’t let you have another biscuit… it’s so annoying when you want something you can’t have… it’s hard when you really want something but you’re not allowed it.. I understand.’ This usually makes them cry louder, shout harder, complain more incessantly or collapse in an emotional heap. That’s the full force of the feelings expressing themselves through their body. (On a side note, often when I witness this I think – ‘how many times did I suppress those feelings in any given day during my childhood as these needs were never met?’) When my kids have calmed down I’ll explain my reasoning, when they’re ready to hear logic and reason. ‘Remember we agreed you’d finish watching that programme then turn the telly off because it’s good to not watch too much tv. Let’s go play in the garden.’ Or ‘I know you love this biscuits but you already had two and it’s good to eat a balance of different foods, how about some carrot sticks/an apple/a drink of water…’ Feeling sorry for them, giving in or entering into a battle of wills takes their power away and it takes away mine too. My kids pain isn’t a problem that I need to fix or relieve them of. That would teach them they are incapable of coping with emotions and difficult situations. Empathy gives me a valuable tool in parenting but it also gives my kids power and the vocabulary to help them understand themselves and articulate themselves in the future.

Empathy and boundaries work together in harmony when attempting to build a deep connection in relationships. This is a steep learning curve for me as I’m doing this with no blue print for how to parent in a healthy way. I’m learning on the job, trying to follow my instincts, accepting guidance from my therapist and reading a lot!

Empathy allows me to take myself out of the equation and see the experience my child is having as being theirs. It helps me parent from a less easily triggered place which in turn helps the kids. The hurt, neglected child in me grieves the lack of this in their life but the adult in me knows that if I can practice giving it to my kids then perhaps one day I will be able to give it to myself.

When someone empathises with us our defences go down. When we feel less defensive we feel more open to curious observation and creativity. That’s where healing happens. That’s where we learn. The connection between two people. The bridge that says ‘I’m not afraid of your pain, in fact I understand it… I know it won’t destroy me to bear witness to your suffering.’

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 the above 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.

Hiding in therapy

I’m in this familiar fuzzy head space that often happens the day after a hard therapy session. It’s like driving at night through the countryside with no street lamps, only the occasional headlights moving towards you, blinding you as the cars zoom past. There’s that split second where it feels like the car is going to drive head first into you. My mind is blurred and black – an endless abyss of thoughts and images that I can’t see but I know are there, with the occasional blinding moment of complete overwhelm. Emotional flooding in a split second. Then back to nothing. It’s so fleeting that I can’t hold on to what it is or why it’s happening.

I know my brain is trying to process what we talked about and what happened. But life doesn’t just stop so I can deal with the aftermath. I have my adult hat on. I’m at work attempting to be responsible and get things done while just beneath the surface I feel like the ground is crumbling beneath me. What I want to do is go home, put my pyjamas back on and crawl under my duvet and stay there until this passes.

Last night was one of the hardest sessions I’ve ever had. I was nudged out of my very narrow window of tolerance many times and at one point thrown head first into complete dissociation. I remember sitting on the floor. I remember Anna asking me how old I felt and telling her ‘3’. I remember wanting to hide. I remember her gently enveloping me in her soft reassuring words, ‘this is so overwhelming for you… of course the feelings feel bigger than you, you’re very little… I’m here and I’m not going to leave you… it wasn’t your fault…’ but I really struggled to speak. She asked for a colour and I told her ‘sticky black, yucky, all over and inside me’ – I struggled to reach over and meet her attempts at connection. Couldn’t allow her gaze to touch me although it felt like it was penetrating me and at one point I asked for her to look away. And so I was hiding again. Curled on an armchair with another human being sitting a meter away from me. Doing everything in my power to not feel the force of her seeing me.

Anna asked me what I needed and I told her for the first time, ‘to cry’. But then another more powerful force stepped in ‘damned if I’m gonna let that happen!’ Anna asked who’s voice that was and as we explored all the ways my mother pushed me away and silenced me the more I felt like I was drowning in the inability to cry. A part of me was crying but not outwardly.

Normally my sessions are slow to start. As with each new session I need to be reminded I can trust Anna. However this session opened the wound immediately. We’d had a phone check in mid week that hadn’t reassured me like I’d hoped it would and so I started to try to explain how I’d been feeling. It turned out she had also been reflecting. Anna said she felt like she’d been taking the lead too much. Too much of her analysing/talking. She was going to change the way we use my drawings. She said she had been reflecting and had decided she was going to stop analysing my pictures completely and leave it to me to explain what I’d drawn. I could feel myself tightening. Legs curled under me. Arms folded around me. She said she felt that by her analysing the drawings it was keeping me in my head and that it was time to push further and delve into the feelings more. She asked how I felt about that and I said I didn’t like it. That it felt bad. That it felt like a rejection. She nodded. She said, ‘it’s not that I don’t want to see your drawings, you can still show me…’ I said, ‘well I don’t think I want to now!’ she smiled and nodded and I said, ‘what’s that smile? Is that a knowing smile? Did you know I would feel like that?’ she said, ‘yes’ and I asked why I felt like that. She said, ‘it’s like when you would open up or share something with your mum and she would turn you away or criticise you or not believe you so you’d think, ‘well I’m never showing you that again!’ I nodded. There was a bit of back and forth as we talked about how painful it felt to have Anna change our routine and how much harder she was making it for me. Anna talked about how every so often the work we do will begin to feel comfortable as I get stronger and that’s when we need to push a little harder into the painful areas. So that’s what she was doing. Challenging. Demanding that I grow to deal with the new limits.

Anna wouldn’t let me show her this weeks drawing. She wanted me to explain what had been going on for me this week rather than using the picture as a crutch. After a huge amount of delaying and discomfort I said, ‘when we spoke on the phone I said that I felt like we were talking too much but actually it’s that I felt you talked too much and when you talk a lot I want to listen and learn and take it all in so I stay in my head and it makes it easy to numb the feelings. But then I leave the session and the feelings come rushing back in and I’m drowned by them again so when we talked on the phone I didn’t want to say ‘you talked too much in the session’ coz I didn’t want to criticise you over the phone so I said ‘we talked too much and I need you to keep an eye out for that’ and then you said ‘you need to take ownership over that’ and… well I guess I am pissed off… coz I was protecting you by not criticising you and instead taking the blame…. then you said it was my fault basically and that I need to take ownership when really it was you that was talking too much and I don’t think I did make it that way but it’s all always my fault!’ I took a breath… it was a rambling, messy, frantic searching for words. Anna was smiling and nodding. She said she was glad I was pissed off. She said this was really important because it tells her what I need and how she can best work with me. She said she was proud of me. She said that we were on the same page. That I hadn’t told her in words how I was feeling last week (and the past few weeks) but that I’d told her transferencially. The times I’d said I felt like I was wasting my sessions. When I would be overwhelmed immediately after the session. These were all signs for her.

I then went on to explain how sometimes when she tries to normalise something for me, it feels invalidating. This was not easy to get out. The room was spinning and I felt sick. She asked for an example. I said that the picture I’d shown her last week (which was a drawing of my childhood bedroom with a thought bubble filling most of the space with my inner world inside it) I said that it was a really fucking big deal to show her that because it meant a lot to me and I’ve never ever shared it with anyone before. It was completely private and secret and mine. I explained that when she said along the lines of ‘everyone day dreams, escapism is normal, it’s understandable that you would want to do that considering what your life was like…’ I knew she was normalising my experience but it felt so invalidating to me because I wanted her to be saying, ‘oh my god that sounds massive’ not, ‘yeah that’s normal, everyone does it…’ I felt like I was sharing a deep precious secret with her and she was just saying ‘stop making a big deal out of nothing!’

There was a long quiet moment where that just hung in the air. ‘Stop making a big deal out of nothing!’ Eventually. Quietly. Anna spoke, ‘…and that feels familiar… doesn’t it…’ I suddenly felt like I’d been kicked in the chest. I nodded.

Anna said, ‘Tell me about that…’

And from there on the conversation felt very different. I was swimming in grief and shame. Feeling very little and very frightened.

We grounded at the end of the session and attempted to talk about what I’m going to do next week during the dreaded therapy break. We hugged and Anna told me again that she was proud of me and I’d done well. I thanked her. Got to my car and burst into tears. The tears that won’t come when I’m with her but so desperately need to be seen and shared.

Progress

I remember reading that progress in therapy is not linear, it’s like a spiral… like a slinky-toy. ‘Moving through a continuous spiral of levels, sometimes so tightly packed in that they seem to be a circle rather than a spiral, other times more clearly separate from one another and more obvious evidence of progress. Similar material is addressed therapeutically at each step along the spiral, but addressed differently at each level as the spiral progresses forward.’

It got me thinking that maybe I will feel like I am taking a few steps forward and one step back sometimes and maybe that’s okay. Because as Anna keeps reminding me, we are not in any rush to get through this. I want to be ‘finished’ already but it’s just not going to be that simple.

Every time I am less than what I believe I should be as a wife and mother I feel this stabbing fear that I am just like mum and that really I’m kidding myself thinking I can be anything better. The catastrophising kicks in. If I can’t get through a day without a cross word or irritation I feel like the whole day is fucked and that everyone who knows me will be storing these misdemeanours in their minds as reasons to hate me and never want to see me again as soon as they get the chance to leave. The thing is, I know these ‘mistakes’ I make are nothing compared to what she did to me but for some reason my mind leaves no room for error for me – I can’t so much as look at the word ‘mistake’ without fearing that I’ll career off on a journey of destruction and completely annihilate everyone in my path. I remember the day I read about narcissistic/histrionic mothers online and everything clicked into place. Like that scene on The Truman Show where he realises his whole life was a set up. It’s like it came as a surprised to me when I realised what she was really like, that it was an actual thing and that it wasn’t all my fault. Every so often I get this dead weight feeling inside me that maybe my husband and the kids don’t know it yet but they will soon realise in time how bad I am for them… just like I did about my mother. I can see that my perfectionism is still a very big part of me. The internalised unrelenting high standards/hyper-criticalness… it’s all still there, even after all the work I did on that with Paul it’s like I revert back to my original form in times of difficulties. There has been a slight softening in my internal voice as I have intentionally tried to be mindful of how I speak in my head. The voice no longer screams, ‘you piece of shit you’re so weak, grow up, no one likes you, you’re worthless…’ now the voice occasionally says, ‘maybe it makes sense that you feel like this…’ I cry by myself every day. Anna says I’m grieving. It hurts like a ball of lead in my chest but the pain doesn’t feel bigger than me like it has in the past. And crying helps reduce the intensity a bit. I’m grateful for this.

One thought that’s made me cry recently was that in the last session Anna said that I come out when I feel safe and go back in when I don’t feel safe. That touched me because I know I am like that but I forget, or I try to pretend that’s not what I’m like. It feels so amazing and so painful that she notices these things and still accepts me and wants to keep working with me. I am reminded of how mum used to say that I was a typical cancerian in that I’m a crab with a hard shell on the outside but I’m soft on the inside. For some reason it makes me feel angry that she used to say this. I feel like I couldn’t let her know me because she would just use these things against me in some way. But also she uses these things to excuse her bad behaviour – describing herself as a typical taurian, being ‘a bull in a china shop’ rather than learning how to think before she speaks or acts.

A few sessions ago Anna told me she felt I was stronger now and she wanted to start tackling the letter I’d written to my mum. I was defensive and I questioned whether I was stronger or were we just not talking about the hard stuff… what if we start talking about it and I go off the deep end again. She didn’t answer me and I felt like she was exasperated by my argumentativeness and unwillingness to just accept encouragement. I then proceeded to have a crap week and the following session was emotionally challenging. With relief I agreed when Anna suggested we delay discussing the letter. She didn’t want to push too hard and for me to retreat again. But I kind of wish she had pushed… because it’s like this tantruming toddler threw herself into the room and had a screaming fit that made us all back down and comply. The toddler didn’t want her to think I was stronger only for me to then let her down… but the adult me knows I can be stronger and still find this difficult. Being stronger doesn’t mean I won’t get upset or space out. Maybe I needed reassurance that Anna would stop if I needed her to, that I could take a step back and she wouldn’t be disappointed in me. That session served the purpose of reassuring the fearful part of me but frustrated the part of me that wants to push forward. Anna remained attuned to me the whole time amazingly (I felt so fragmented I couldn’t stay attuned to me… but she managed!). She became moved by a story I told her. I felt my trust deepening. I envy how effortlessly the emotions come and go for her like waves. I want to be like that.

I’m so conflicted. I always feel like I need to do something but I guess when I feel this conflicted the best thing is to just notice. Notice and do nothing. I’m not where I want to be but a few things have changed. I trust Anna more than I’ve ever trusted anyone before and I am prepared to go places inside myself I was never able to even see before. The progress is slow, but it’s still progress.

A letter to my mother

There’s such a painful grief in the realisation that there really was nothing I could do to make her love me. I wasn’t enough for her.

Mum,

So here I am attempting to write to you again. I’ve been here before but it does feel different this time. I’m really going to throw everything into this – what have I got to lose? In saying that, I don’t even know where to start. There’s a great deal of resistance trying to put words to these abstract feelings that my body gives me fleeting glimpses of when I am still or quiet or on my own. There are no words that describe this gnawing pain in my chest – I’ve pushed this down for a very long time – but this pain is as familiar to me as my name, I know it and I know how powerfully it can consume me – perhaps I’m frightened that if I take another step into this ocean, the weight of the flood might overwhelm me. What if I can’t find my way back again? When I sit in the space between my memories, I feel like I’m drowning.

If I told you how I felt, you’d tell me you’ve felt worse. Then you’d make me listen to endless examples to back up that claim. In fact if you read that first paragraph, you’d mock my use of descriptive language, tell me I’m using my intelligence to belittle you and then say something about how I’d always been overly sensitive.

In an attempt to emotionally engage with this task, I imagined sitting with you now – I feel my whole body tense up. I find myself completely closed off to you. I started building this wall at a very young age and I feel sick if I imagine saying any of this to you now. My heart is racing. I remember the last time I let my guard down with you. I sat in your garden and cried and asked you not to move away from me and it resulted in you moving 450 miles away. I am now so glad you moved, the distance did me good but I swear I will never allow myself to be vulnerable with you again. In the interest of working through this therapeutic process I will try to disarm myself, safe in the knowledge that you will never read this.

I am so angry that any of this needs to be said. I don’t want to have to write this letter. I don’t want this to be part of my narrative. I hate feeling like this, wishing you were different. Part of me feels like if I can just keep blaming myself at least then there’s hope of finding a way to fix it all. To preserve the fantasy of the mum I desperately need you to be. That’s what I poured all of myself into for most of my life… fixing you and maintaining the facade. What a fucking waste of a life. All of that innocent hope, wasted on you. I really believed you were that perfect mum for so long and shamefully a piece of me still struggles with that delusion. The idea that if I could stop being so difficult everything would be okay.  It hurts to hate you, I feel so guilty for these awful, hateful, vengeful thoughts and feelings I have.  

I tried to write this letter almost 6 years ago. In the end I couldn’t do it. I just compiled a few emails I’d already sent to you over the years and sat in a room with a man who’d shown me more kindness in just a few months than you did my entire life and spent 50 minutes reading the words aloud into the stark space between us. The words hung there like a sticky web of anger and disappointment and endless wasted effort. He was visibly moved by the content. I didn’t cry. I didn’t emotionally connect with what I was saying, something inside me had shut down and I was convinced that I didn’t care anymore. I felt numb every time I spoke about you. Week in, week out I rattled through these events that had happened to me as if they hadn’t actually happened to me. And then completely lost my mind when I found myself alone again. And you got on with your life while I had to take time off work and would sit in the dark dead of night holding my baby girl crying my fucking eyes out, pinned to the spot on the floor in case I break her in some way and you are still there now in your twisted narcissistic bubble going about your shallow life with your new boyfriend. Congratulating yourself on what a great person you are because you occasionally send me emails or parcels of crap we don’t need. Then you unleash your crocodile tears as you talk to your family about how you don’t deserve such ungrateful children.

I don’t want to give you the power of knowing how much you messed me up. I feel like you burned holes through the canvas of my life and no matter how hard I try to patch over it, the holes are still there, the holes let all the blackness in. But I’ve worked so hard to try to fix myself. I have uncovered and tended to so many of my darkest places and have been praised for my bravery in doing so and I know that it hurts but it has to get better. I have the bravery that you lacked, to break the chain before another generation suffers. So here I am, taking a deep breath, taking my time and really trying to connect to this pain, for my children. But my emotions are fickle and introverted – preferring to expose themselves in isolation. They fight against my need for meaningful connection by rarely allowing themselves to be seen by people who could help me.

Sadly I have now resigned myself to the fact that there is no hope for us and that once again I need to do all of this on my own. I’ve said everything I could possibly say to you already. I’ve gently whispered it between compliments. I’ve stated it directly with clarity. I’ve shouted and cried it out at you on my knees in total desperation. I’ve written it to you in letters, emails, texts. I’ve willed it to you from across a silent room. I’ve fucking screamed it at you in my sleep. But even when I placed it in front of you, you didn’t see me. You don’t listen to hear people, you listen to formulate an argument or to be dismissive. Or you collapse like a rag doll, with endless tears and my need instantly inverts and becomes the bandage that heals your wounds. The wounds that I apparently inflicted on you. Because it’s always all been my fault.

I need to believe that you have some sort of personality disorder. That theory brings a little relief from this emptiness inside me. I’ve been told that expecting you to be the mum I want you to be is like expecting a person born with no arms to hug me then being angry with them when they can’t do it. I can see that’s true, but I’m sure I’ve seen you be loving with other people, I think that’s why it’s so difficult to let this go. It doesn’t feel fair. What is it about me that is so difficult to love? For most of my life I did everything in my power to try to make you like me, to make you happy. I loved you so much I would have done anything for you. The unconditional love a child has for their parent is a delicate and fragile gift that you should have cherished but it wasn’t enough for you. You were always so hungry for love but no one could have loved you more than I did. You took me for granted, you hurt and betrayed me, humiliated and rejected me but for so long I believed I was the one at fault. I thought that I must have been the most unacceptable, unlovable, worthless thing because why else would someone as wonderful and beautiful and loving and kind as you behave the way you did. I pushed you into doing the most horrible things and carried such a heavy guilt for that. But the guilt was never mine. This letter is a way for me to give it to it’s rightful owner.

I was led to believe that I was lucky to have the family I had, lucky to have you as my mother. It took me a very long time and a lot of painstaking gentle guidance in a safe therapeutic space for me to understand the reality. To name it. The way you treated me. It was abuse. It was emotional abuse and emotional neglect. And sometimes physical.  And some sort of weird sexual/psychological abuse of my mind. Even as I write this I want to delete it all and say it wasn’t that bad. That I’m exaggerating and there were plenty of happy times. But the truth is, it definitely wasn’t any of the things it should have been. It wasn’t nurturing. It wasn’t protecting. It wasn’t kindness or patience. It wasn’t acceptance. It was not love. There was something so deceptive about the abuse. You were so clever about how you behaved that no one knew what you were really like. Not even me. You had us all fooled. All of my friends wanted you to be their mum. I worshiped you. You would say all the right things in front of people and give just enough to make me want more. And as you gave with one hand and slapped with the other I fucking thanked you for it.

I could never fully relax around you. I studied your responses, holding my breath, trying to figure out how to make myself bearable to you. I had no sense of who I really was –  I was just an extension of you. I should have been free to discover my own mind in my own time. Every so often I have these mini moments of clarity where I realise I’ve spent my whole life believing something that I don’t really believe. Some memories burn with clarity in my minds eye and some are so foggy and full of gaps – sometimes I don’t even know what I remember, like it’s ever so slightly out of reach. I feel like my understanding of it all was warped by being constantly persuaded to think and feel a certain way depending on what you thought and felt. Maybe I was somehow absorbing your inner conflict? Sometimes you could bear me and sometimes you despised me. When it suited you, you would sing my praises, show me off, openly congratulate me and parade me as the daughter you loved so dearly. There were times when you would tell me we were better than other people, or we would feel superior by default as you put everyone else down. But then there were all the times you mistreated me, criticised me and abandoned my needs. It made me feel like I was crazy.  

You were so rough with your judgements of me. Through a thin veil of making out like it was for my own good, you judged me with such tight and unforgiving cruelty that I now can’t move without hearing the hateful criticisms in my own voice in my own fucking mind. You would pepper your insults with the disguise of a compliment or piece of advice – as if you were doing me a favour. Yet still I find myself empathising with you – you must have hated yourself. Happy people don’t need to drag other people down like that. You projected all of your self-loathing crap onto my fresh young mind. You talked about how fat you were all the time, that you used to be tiny in the 70’s and that having kids had ruined your body and you hated your thighs and your stomach and blah blah blah… you equate happiness and self-worth with being thin and beautiful. I must confuse you so much, you must hate that I actually do have a man who loves me and has loved me for 18 years. He has never asked me to change and has only ever loved me as I am. You must hate that I don’t ever put myself down in front of you. Nothing would make you happier than to know that I fucking hate myself. That you won. You won. I hate every part of my body. I can be grateful that it all works, but I don’t like any part of it. But nothing would make me share that with you and I would never let my daughter see or hear me hating myself. It is my job as her mother to build her up and kids learn by what they see. All of my energy goes into projecting self-acceptance and self-love. Even though I don’t feel it or believe it. She already has more confidence in her little finger than I ever had in my whole life. It’s the parents’ job to give their kids the gift of acceptance and a sense of wonder at how amazing they are. And it couldn’t be easier to foster that self-acceptance, kids come into the world with no judgements and no hate. You have to work damn hard to put the shame into them.

Now as an adult, I really struggle to know who I am. While I grew up listening to all of your tales of adventure and beauty and excitement. The music and the clothes and the drugs and the sex. You talked in such detail about where you lived and who you knew and what you did that I felt like I went there too, that I knew these people and saw these places. That I was your loser friend tagging along while you had the time of your life. I got the clear message that what you had was better than anything I could ever have. I never had any dreams of my own. You made me feel like my life was worthless because what’s the point in living if it’s all been done before. Now here I am at 35 years old and I don’t know what I like. I don’t know what I value. I don’t know what clothes I would choose to wear if I had a body that would look good in anything.

There are significant moments in a person’s life that one way or another leave a mark that lasts forever. For good or for bad. They either feed the persons soul from the roots up or they gouge a trough in their core and make that person, in that instant, ever so slightly less of a person. Because of your total disregard for my safety and your own selfish need for instant gratification I was repeatedly confronted with adult situations that I should never have experienced. Those situations made a lasting impact on me. I learned that I could not trust you to protect me and that I was completely alone.

Fuck you. Fuck you for repeatedly rejecting me and neglecting my most basic needs. Fuck you for not believing me, for not even leaving a space for me to tell you. For making me doubt myself. Fuck you for reading my diary and doing fuck all about it other than to tell people the bits that didn’t incriminate you too much. Fuck you for knowing I was hurting so much that I was cutting into my perfect skin and doing nothing but humiliate me about it and making it all about you. For refusing to continue taking me to the psychologist. Fuck you for being so selfish. But it actually was all about you. I thought it was about me but it was you – and when I cut myself you were on my mind. Watching your words bleed out of me. Fuck you for not holding me. For not loving me. You deprived yourself of something so beautiful by not allowing yourself to love me.

It’s not logical for me to hang onto the idea that you could in any way be there for me. We will never have the relationship that I want. You show a total lack of interest in my life, my family and my interests. You will never genuinely apologise for or even acknowledge the things I experienced and how you treated me. We have nothing in common and I still find you to be a really toxic person to be around. I think you know deep down that things were really awful, the amount of times you’ve asked me if you were a good mum and then defensively jumped in with ‘I always tried my best’. I always told you I loved you, tried to make you feel better. Told you I understood and that it was hard for you. That of course you were a good mum. But you weren’t good enough and I don’t think you did try your best. I think you put yourself first, repeatedly. I don’t think you were the mum I deserved. I think you damaged me. You used me but you were never there when I needed you.

I almost lost my mind when I became a mother. It was a time filled with total joy and utter blackness. Fulfilling my ultimate dream of being a mummy and doing it with no blueprint and with no support from you. The health visitor came to me every Monday morning for 10 fucking months because she could see my grief. That’s 9 months more than normal. Some days I could barely move, chained down by fear and anxiety and depression. But even through all of that, I met my baby’s needs. I loved her. I will forever make damn sure that my kids know they are so easily loved by me.

This letter was one of the hardest things to start, but then I found it almost impossible to stop. I have removed and added, diluted then reinstated so much of the content. It doesn’t even cover a fraction of what I struggle with. I started out with the idea that I needed to work towards some sort of forgiveness for you. That I needed to let go of the pain and accept the person that you are. I tried to remember tender moments, times when you showed your love. But the more I tried, the more empty I felt. Maybe in time some form of forgiveness for you will grow inside me, but right now I feel like my heart is breaking all over again as I slowly begin to break down this wall and try to tune into my feelings.

I want to thank you. Thank you for giving me countless examples of how I do not want to live my life. Thank you for so many accidental gifts. Because of you I have resilience, there isn’t much life can throw at me that feels half as painful as being completely rejected by my own mother. Because of you I have an almost unbearable ability to feel compassion and empathy for the struggles of others. Because of you I have an amazingly vivid imagination because I spent hours of my life living up there in my mind, blocking out what was happening in the real world. Because of you I have an endless love of reading and drawing and writing from spending hours and hours on my own. Because of you I have fight in me. Because of you I cultivated my brain to counterbalance what I didn’t get in looks. Because of you I know exactly what children need due to the fact that I didn’t get it as a child and I know how intoxicating it feels when your needs are met because I had to pay someone to give me that feeling as an adult. Because of you I work fucking hard at maintaining my relationships because I know what happens if you neglect the people who love you. Because of you I have an amazing brother, he’s the best thing you and dad ever gave me. Because I am not as damaged as you, thank fuck, and I do know how to love. And I love with the whole of me, unconditionally and unapologetically. And I still fucking love you despite all of this.

I do wish you happiness, but no longer at the expense of mine.

Lucy

Giving her a voice

I am hunched and hiding, tucked in behind draped clothes inside the foot of the wardrobe, knees to my chest, eyes shut tight. My mother’s clothes hanging around my face and body, I am squashed between a tall stack of shoe boxes and the cold inside wall of the creaking piece of furniture. I am being held by these inanimate objects in a sort of a hug that smells like it should feel comforting. I can feel her all around me and see her on the inside of my eyelids. There is a throbbing pulse of pain that radiates from the centre of my chest and out down my arms. My tummy is telling me I’m feeling something but I have no idea what it is. I remember to breathe and then I sob as if I will never stop. It feels like I will run out of tears. I am searching my mind for the words to make this make sense. All I have is words, I’m good with words I can be articulate and clever and make grown ups impressed with all the things that I know. But I can’t figure out how I feel, what my body is feeling. Why can’t I work this out?

Why doesn’t she want me? I need for her to show some delight when she sees me. I need for her to be gentle and tuned in to me and my needs. But what hope does she have of doing that when I don’t even know what my needs are? When I am so unacceptable… of course she can’t bear to even look at me.

I feel like the elaborately decorated elephant balancing on the circus ball – clumsily attempting to keep everyone happy by fulfilling a role I was not made for. I am not made for this. I feel like an imposter and at every opportunity I take the chance to disappear. I hide in, on and under furniture. I hide at the bottom of the garden next to the loud and cleansing stream as it noisily drowns out my crying. I imagine somehow making myself small and fluid enough to be washed away by the water. I hide up in no-mans-land behind the golf course, when I am able to get away. I run up there and just breathe in the space around me. I imagine the repeating fantasy that began when I was 7 or 8 years old that I could gently sink back into the enveloping body of the earth and be drawn in and be gone. Part of the landscape. The image of the rolling hills holding me is such a comfort it warms me inside. When I am trapped in the house or the car, I hide in my mind. This beautiful tapestry of fixed and perfect situations I have created and cultivated for hours and hours. I look forward to visiting that vast space up there that is filled with exciting adventures that revolve around me and people who love me and I am so happy and funny and beautiful and all the things I am really not.

But hiding, deep inside the wardrobe… deep inside my mind. I can be anybody.

Vulnerability

I’ve always found it difficult to be my true self with people. Always had so much going on under the surface that no one saw. Old habits die hard.

I don’t know how to be fully authentic and open with Anna. I don’t know how to be completely vulnerable with another person. Especially not a woman. It scares me. I don’t even notice the fear but it’s there all the time, under the surface. Anna asked if I hold it in until I leave the session and I guess I always have done that. Since I was very young – that Perspex bubble around me so that the criticising, blaming, humiliating couldn’t reach me… and if I hide myself then I can’t be hurt when they don’t see me. It was the only thing I could control – that no matter what happened, they didn’t know I was hurting. I didn’t want to give them the power of knowing how I was feeling. Then I can blame myself when no one shows they care, because how were they to know?

I have a very vivid image of this little girl sobbing her heart out, wanting to crawl up onto Anna’s lap and cuddle her. She’s always either crying or hiding. The image has been popping up a lot recently, louder just before sessions. It comes through as a feeling of panic and anxiety. But in the session on Tuesday there was a wall between me and her. That happens a lot. So when Anna was trying to get me to reach inwards I just had nothing. And so Anna fills the gaps with talking and that just makes it even easier for me to hide. I get a lot from what Anna says but I know there’s a part of me that is happy to let her talk more so I can feel less. It keeps me in my head, muffling the feelings. I’m sure it’s a way to protect myself but I want the protecting part of me to fuck off, it’s not helping any more I don’t need to be protected from Anna it’s just stopping me from getting what I need. What am I so afraid of? That I’ll start to cry and wont stop? That I’ll break the dam that holds back the body of water that up until this point has only been seeping in through the cracks… that it will knock me to the ground and I will drown in it all, again, and my life will be annihilated… the life that I have worked so hard to build up. What if I go back to how I was? What if I start crying and never stop?

As soon as I left the session I felt the wave of that little girl’s pain and anguish because once again I’d abandoned her in the session when she can almost taste the comfort and support she’d get if only she could express herself. It starts as soon as I turn the corner onto the street. Then I had nightmares all night and woke up with the panicky, heavy sadness and I have to get the kids ready for school and I have to be mummy and go to work be a wife and happy, laughing, capable Lucy while I carry this intense, unignorable pain around with me.

I’m so angry with myself for not getting my fucking needs met IN THE SESSION! I mean, what the hell!?? It’s burning the back of my throat now and I’m just sitting here next to my husband ‘watching’ tv desperate to just be in the room with Anna. Because even though I feel like I can’t be completely vulnerable with her. At least I can sit in the space of not being able. I don’t have to be anything in that room. Everywhere else I have to be something or someone to somebody. But with Anna I can just be. It is the most vulnerable I have ever been with another person and it’s the most frightening thing ever. And it’s still not enough. I feel like we’re going too fast and too slow all at once. It’s too much and not enough. I want to fill the session with as many words as we can fit into an hour and I also want us both to stay silent and not utter a single word to each other. I wonder what would happen if we just said nothing… would the feelings come then, filling in the vacuum created by no words? Or maybe I would spend the whole time dissociated… just an hour of nothing.