On Monday, I spoke to T about this post, and then we met last night. I wasn’t sure, after last week, whether I would be going yesterday or if we could ever find our way back from the intense emotions I hold around what happened. But, as often happens when I feel that the end is imminent and the crisis is unfixable, yesterday was fine. It was holding and supporting and loving. We both survived.
Speaking on the phone on Monday was a good shout. I feel safer sometimes by phone – there is a barrier between us and though that very same barrier often makes usual sessions harder when they have to happen by phone, it makes difficult conversations a little more truthful. I try to make sure I’m sat in my car for these types of conversations – my car is my bubble. I parked up in a quiet car park, surrounded by trees, and we tried to pull apart what had happened.
So I guess the important part of what happened is that, given time, she would have replied. The problem came because she was crazy busy, and I wasn’t clear in my second text about what I needed. The panicked text about the blood she didn’t reply to because she needed time to consider what to reply – and the second text (“please say something”) she read to mean please say something in relation to the previous text, not please say ANYTHING because I think you’re dead. So she ignored it, again, because she was still really busy and still needed that time to reply. If I had been more clear about what I needed, explained that I was in crisis, or if I had rung her, she would have replied with more urgency – but I wasn’t clear and she can’t always be a mindreader.
Monday’s conversation was tough because we were both frustrated with each other. She didn’t know what else to say to me, I think – ultimately, I cannot have her 24/7, nobody can, but I am cross that I cannot. At one point she suggested that she had ignored the text about the blood because of what I had said in the session about wanting to push boundaries – I leapt on her for this, because that’s VERY close to accusing me of attention seeking, which is a huge negative trigger from my childhood
and something I will come back to in another post – post here. But ultimately, we were both sounding cross – and I certainly leapt to the assumption she was accusing me of something she wasn’t saying (or at least, didn’t mean). I felt calmer for having yelled at her down the phone – I was able to be totally honest about how scared I had been and how heartbroken I was, which helped. We agreed to continue talking about what this all meant on Thursday.
I wasn’t nervous in the run up to our session. I went on a walk with a friend just before and commented on how detached I felt from the whole process… she suggested it was a protection thing, and maybe it was – T said during our phonecall, so are you leaving me so that I can’t leave you? She must have reassured me a million times on Monday that no matter what, she is standing by me – but yes, I think she was right – a big element of my ‘meh’ was that if I’ve detached first, it won’t hurt so much when she leaves. This was fine until I knocked on the door and she didn’t immediately answer – then my true feelings shone through crystal clear. When she did answer, I could have cried with relief.
When we sat down, I told her she had to start talking first. She immediately said she wanted to address my email – to make it clear that she never meant it to sound like she was accusing me of attention seeking. She agrees wholeheartedly that it isn’t attention seeking, it’s attention needing, and that it will continue until the need is met. She carefully suggested that I had misheard a lot of what she said, hearing it through my traumatised child filters. I think she was careless in what she said on the phone, but all the same I feel comforted by her adamant reassurance that she never meant it the way so many adults have meant it before.
The next reassuring thing, which meant our session went down the right tracks and not the wrong, was I asked what her supervisor had said about it. She started by saying that her supervisor had read my text the same way – not that I was in crisis but that I needed a response which needed time. I was ruffled by this (ganged up on…) until I asked her what her supervisior told her to do with me. She said, supervision for her is not about telling her what to do – she told her supervisor what she was going to do, which was to carry on being present for me. Nothing changes. I felt every cell in me relax at this point – nothing changes. She will carry on.
We talked for a while about the attachment process. I am so completely in love with T – she represents everything I never had and truly believe I need in life to feel whole. Safety, security, warmth, and an unwavering dedication to the whole of me. T supports every fragmented part of me, and I am wholly in love with her because of it. I never entered therapy to fall in love with a stranger. I knew I wanted to get over the fucked up relationship I had with my mum, but I believed that I just needed to harden up, numb out to it and shut it down. Instead, I am now more vulnerable than I have ever been before. Sometimes, I think I am more vulnerable now than I was even then. At least then, I was so segmented I was mostly numb to it all. Now, all of those fragments are open and honest in therapy – there is no hiding from the overwhelmingly painful emotions anymore. When we have talked about overcoming attachment issues before, T has been firm in her belief that you have to fully attach before you can then grow up and out of that attachment, into healthier attachments for the rest of my life. Just like children do – their first caregiver, their primary attachment (usually their mother) teaches them all they need to know about healthy attachments, giving them the safe and secure grounding for the rest of their relationships. Except for 35% of the population, that doesn’t happen. For me, it didn’t.
The last year with T has felt like allowing myself to be secure in someone’s care for the first time ever. I genuinely trust T. I trust that she works hard, that she cares. I trust that she is a good person. I trust that she has fought her own demons and knows what it means to feel their force. I trust that she has her concern for my welfare at the heart of all decisions she makes concerning me. Over the last year, our contact has increased from once a week to pretty much whenever I need her. She replies to texts, emails, I can call if I need her. But it is unsustainable.
My view of a ‘perfect parent’ is one who is there 24/7. They would react to any crisis without judgement, fixing anything that was broken. They would love unconditionally, and above anyone else. Their children come first to them, above anything else. They wouldn’t ever get frustrated with their child for needing them, and they would never get cross at the child for that need. In my fantasy of T, she is like this with her children. She is the sort of mother who scooped them up and wiped their knees when they were small, and now they are adults she would still be there to fix anything. Now her daughter has her own children, she will be repeating that beautiful cycle with those three little people.
But this isn’t true. It was helpful to listen to T explain to me that even her children don’t ‘get her’ 24/7. Her phone rings in our session sometimes, and she never ever flinches – she ignores it, no matter who it could be. If her children need her during my session, then they just have to wait. Yes, she will be there for them and help then when she can, but when she can. Not to the extent of her dropping everything at that very minute. Yes, in the event of a true crisis, she would move heaven and earth – but then she does that for me too. She’s been late for meetings, she’s stayed well over our session time, replied to me on evenings and weekends; she shows me all the time how much she cares. She was telling me yesterday how she was walking the dog and thought of me – she cares all the time, but she can’t be there all the time. Not every minute – but when she can, she will be. She is. She has proven this so many times before.
So I guess we’re at a point now where I need to grow up. We’ve done the newborn stage of attachment – the stage where she proves that she will always be there. It hasn’t been perfect and there is a grief in that, because I will never get the fullness of the opportunity to attach to a primary caregiver at the age where your brain is so programmed to accept that love. But she has proven for me that it is possible for someone to care about me enough to stick around through anything and everything. All the evil, all the gross, all the dirty – she hasn’t left.
At one point yesterday, she said to me “I always try my best”. I told her that I don’t doubt that – I know she does. But why? I said. Why would you try your best with me? “Why wouldn’t I?” she replied. “I care about you.”
This next stage is about finding my feet in a world where some of the time, I can cope on my own. Some of the time, I can internalise her and use my own resources to cope. Some of the time, I can trust in her love enough so that I do not need to check in with her to remind me. We have passed the “discriminate attachment stage”, if you are so minded as to follow Schaffer and Emerson’s map, and we’re headed towards what I would class as being securely attached – internalised connection to the primary caregiver, but fruitful and positive connections made to others. This toddler stage, where little ones start to branch out and meet the world outside of mummy’s arms, feels so completely horrifying to me at 24 years old – and this seems to me to be because my self-esteem isn’t secure yet. I still cannot see why anyone should want to be near me, nor why anyone should care. I don’t truly understand why I shouldn’t be hurt or punished. I still want to hide from the world, to protect the world from me. So this stage is going to take a hell of a lot of work before I’m secure in it – work on self-esteem and self-image. But it needs to start now.
T raised concerns yesterday at the level of expectation I place on myself. It feels comforting that the only person putting this intense pressure on myself is me – T was a very stabilising presence yesterday, consistent in her reassurance that she isn’t leaving. If the pressure was coming from her, I’d feel pushed out, unloved, and pressurised to grow up too quickly – which is pretty much what happened before. So that she is just standing there, holding my hand but letting me make the steps I need to take, feels totally brilliant.
What I need in this place is the reassurance that when I need her, she will be there. Definitely. Without any ifs or buts, when I need her she will be there. There are two things that need to happen for that to be possible, and so these are my foci for this week:
1) Make a list of what resources I have, and agree with myself to use them before I contact T. If I have worked through the list and tried all my own resources, then contacting T feels ok, because I need the comfort and she knows I have tried everything else. I will start this list on my own, but want to talk to R about it when I see her, too – as adult coping strategies feels like something we can work on together.
2) “Use my words”. I say this to the children I work with all the time – take a deep breath and use your words. Friday could have been avoided if I had been clearer in what I had needed from T. T finds it easier when I email her, apparently, as they are longer and thus more descriptive than text. Also, if I ask for what I need clearly, it makes it easier for her to reply immediately. On Tuesday this week, when I emailed her, I wrote at the top, “I don’t need a detailed reply but it would be good to know that you’ve read this and aren’t leaving”. She replied almost immediately, reassuring me that nothing it said could make her leave me – and I felt ok. How simple is that?! I expect her to be a mind reader, which just is not possible. Using my words, speaking up for what I need, sounds horrifyingly scary (because what if she says no????) but that is so much safer than waiting for a reply I may never get because she hasn’t been able to read into my cryptic text messaging what I actually meant.
So, there we are. The first wobbly steps of growing up into the next phase for us in therapy, and for me in life. Whilst texting a friend about this last night, I wrote;
Session was good with T. Feel like this is a pivotal moment for us… I think this is the start of me trying to ‘grow up’ and gain some independence away from her – but still under her watchful eye if that makes sense. My graduation present to myself was a leather strap bracelet with the quote “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”. Maybe this is sappy or too inward looking but I feel like this is my second shot at growing into the person I was meant to be – not the person I was the first time round with all the unhealthy and the sad.
…and that still feels true today. A weight has definitely been lifted, and I feel secure in her holding my hand onto the next step.
Two slightly random but loosely connected things to end on. My housemate and I went to see X-Men in the cinema a few weeks ago, and one quote from it really leapt out at me. Isn’t it just the perfect description of the therapeutic process?
The greatest gift we have is to bear their pain without breaking, and it’s born from your most human part: hope.
The second is Ed Sheeran’s new song which I heard as I was driving home last night, listening to a radio station I never listen to. I think it is beautiful (as all his songs are), but the lyrics are beautiful too:
Loving can hurt,
Loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard,
You know it can get hard sometimes
It’s the only thing that makes us feel alive
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Our hearts were never broken
And time’s forever frozen, still
So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me close until our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone,
Wait for me to come home
Loving can heal,
Loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know.
Mending my soul. How lovely that would be.