All week, I’ve been dreading writing a post entitled ‘The Beginning of the End’. It’s been sat in my drafts folder, and I’ve been adding a few words to it as they’ve come to me. As the week has passed, my anxiety surrounding what was going to happen with T grew, and I think I felt more and more that it was a compete certainty that we would be ending. I am so grateful that after T yesterday I do not need to write that post anymore.
T and I have been working together for three years, this coming Monday. Over the last few months, I feel like we’ve clashed more than we’ve done anything else (admittedly significantly more heavily weighted to me losing my shit than her…). We’ve gone from quite a steady state of my total adoration of her, to a place where I’m bouncing like a pinball in a machine between love, anger, total disinterest, and back again. It’s seemed almost random, except for the triggers being so obvious as I try to listen to what Sass, in particular, is saying. I’ve also succeeded in making T cross on a few occasions, which has really rocked this ship – she is my anchor, unyielding to any of the horrors that happen for me in her presence, so to see her moved enough to be cross at me has felt horribly unsettling (and more than a little like I’ve broken her, as we always believed deep down we would).
In my session with R last weekend, she asked me to note down any involuntary negative thoughts, which I have been doing. It has really shown up for me the amount of times in a day (hell, even within an hour) that I tell myself negative things. “T will leave”, “you are useless”, “you are broken”, “she doesn’t care” etc.. In the last week, my thoughts about T leaving me have been at an all time, screaming high. This always feels like a stupid thought and one I constantly berate myself for having, because T has told me over and over again until I am sure she is ready to throttle me that she is not leaving me. What was really noticeable for the first time this week is that I think when I say “please don’t leave me”, I mean it more in an emotional sense. I trust T – she’s a good therapist and I know that she would never leave me midway through treatment without a damn good reason (like being squashed by a bus). I know she will always come back to our session after her holiday; I know she will always turn up for our next session even if I’ve been a nightmare the session prior. Certainly since her operation and the month-long holiday, I do trust her now that she is coming back. Little may not always believe it, but I do know that now.
Leaving me in an emotional sense is a different matter, though. The strongest, most healing part of my relationship with T is our connection that runs below the words we both say. Her words are really important to me, but I take in much more of what she ‘says’ using her body language, her grounding touch and the tone of her words. Which I think is why I’ve felt so much like we’re coming apart at the seams recently – there has been punch after punch of anger and distrust and general uncertainty that I’ve not been able to reconnect in between those times. Previous ‘fallings out’ have happened, but been sandwiched between sessions filled with bonding and general comfort. It’s been so bad recently that we’ve not even finished the first drama before my head is already onto the next one. Added to this constant stream of drama is all the worries I have around breaking her – I read too much into every cross word or pause before she’ll hug me, and it feels like we’ve been running through treacle for a long time.
I had emailed T with my panic about this being the end for us during the week, so she was at least prepared. I wasn’t as prepared, though; I’m really poorly, so my defences were pretty low from the first minute. Yesterday’s session felt like the first time in a very long time that I’ve been truly vulnerable with T – there have been plenty of sessions where I’m sure she’s seen my vulnerability (whilst Sass is yelling, or Little is mid-flashback), but I feel like I’ve not sat with T like that in a long time. At one point during the session, she said that it was really good to hear how I was feeling – and I thought that was probably the first time in a while I’ve spoken honestly about what is going on, without being overpowered by Sass or hiding behind Little. (Do I hide between Little or does she hide behind me? Hmm.).
So, it was good to talk. Good to share my fear that this attachment bullshit isn’t going away, any time soon or maybe ever. Good to share the pain I hold around constantly feeling like I’m missing a piece of my puzzle – a piece that got ripped out of me, beaten up, ripped apart, spat on and eventually tortured until there wasn’t anything left of it. The feeling that I’m not quite complete is only ever wholly soothed by being with T – hearing her voice, being aware of her and the sense that she sits with me genuinely without judgement, without fear of my Before, and without any expectations of me other than just being Me. Our time together is healing, soothing and life-saving, but right now I cannot retain that warmth I get from her outside of the times we speak or connect. When we have sessions that aren’t warm in this way (because I’ve been yelling, or tired, or we’ve both had long days, or she’s cross, or I’m spooked by something, or sometimes the stars just aren’t in their right alignment…), I have to survive an entire extra week until I manage to ‘refuel’ from her. When we have weeks like we’ve had recently, it might be two weeks, or three. I have got so much better at soothing outside of sessions, mostly with her blanket, because it is a physical connection to her. But when we’ve not connected properly, I find it impossibly difficult to understand that just because she’s been cross, or it’s gone wrong, doesn’t mean she’s stopped caring. When I’m panicking about her leaving me, I think it is much more about a fear that she will stop caring for me as anything more than a client she has a professional responsibility to see. I need to feel like she cares about me as a soul, not as a requirement, and though she repeatedly proves this to me over and over again (my journal is testament to all the beautiful things she says or does that make me feel loved), I cannot retain it. Whilst I can retain the knowledge that professionally she isn’t going to dump me, I don’t want to feel like she’s had enough, and distanced herself, forgotten about me or decided that I’m not worth caring about. When I voiced this, she asked me how well I knew her? I laughed and said probably not very well at all, but she said that she thinks I know the core of her, and did I think she could do the work she does without caring? Would I get cross if I didn’t care? she said. This is true – the children I work with who really get under my skin are the children who sit very close to my heart. The children who rile me when they’re messing around are the children I genuinely want the very best for, and those who give me sleepless nights worrying about them are the ones who I want to see succeed in everything they do in life. I am really trying to remember that if she didn’t care in her heart, we wouldn’t ever get those times where I feel so intensely warmed by her, but equally we wouldn’t get the times where things are a bit sore for both of us. I’m trying to remember.
Hearing myself say out loud just how difficult I find being away from her, and just how much I need her soothing to start to do my own self-soothing, reminded me of something R wanted me to remember this week – it does matter. It does matter that I had that attachment trauma stuff happen. It does matter that, whilst I work on that, I’m going to feel really sore around it. It does matter that I feel secure in the attachment I do have with T. Of course it matters, and the more I try to silence it, the louder it’s getting. This feeling was helped by T being exceptionally understanding of these thoughts and feelings yesterday. She reminded me that these emotions stem primarily from something that happened during my first days on this earth – and yes, stuff happened after and there is no denying the impact that had, but it was all a big mess from day 1. I got quite choked, and asked/squeaked (where does my voice go?!) for her to please make this pain go away. Stop blaming yourself, was her reply. It was not your fault. I haven’t heard those words in a while. When will I start believing them? Love her.
We talked about how I feel like I’m missing that puzzle piece and it is so sore. I appreciate her honesty in her answer that the piece will probably always be missing, at least a fragment of it. But the work we’re doing is rebuilding, a bit like patching those gaps, and eventually she promises me this won’t hurt as much anymore. T will remind me that the soothing has to come from within me, ultimately, to have an impact on the 167 hours around our therapy sessions. My first instinct is always to reject this: it’s not fair, I don’t want to, everyone else gets that from someone else loving them why don’t I, I’m bad, I deserved this. But I’m doing it more and more, and so I wonder whether this really rough patch has actually been the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end. Maybe now I’m in a place where I trust T enough to be starting to do the work needed on patching up the hole left by that missing piece. I’m not saying I’m ready to abandon any soothing from her – I’m still somewhere between desperate and hysterical to hear her voice today because I’m sick and need sympathy, and I am going to have to learn from her modelling her care for me, because it certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. But maybe we’re finally in a place where I am a little more able to take responsibility for that broken part, at least some of the time? So much of our clashing has happened because I’ve felt that she’s been unfair, she’s underestimated me, or she’s not caring – which surely is just the part of me starting to speak out for what we need and what I obviously deep down feel needs to happen for me to be ‘okay’? There must be a way to build my resourcefulness in the 167 hours I am not with her, whilst still taking the warmth and refuelling from her in the time I can be with her. There must be a space for both to happen, and maybe that is the middle. The beginning has looked a whole lot like T fighting for me whilst I’ve fought to destroy myself at every turn; there has been a lot of angst as she’s held me afloat whilst I’ve been filling my pockets with rocks. The end, a time without T as a regular and integral part of my life, is too scary to think about – but maybe being in the middle is okay. And if we can start working together a bit more, rather than constantly clashing, that can only be a good thing (are you listening, Sass?).
My best friend leant me her handbook from a group she did, that worked on self-compassion. It’s been sat on my bedside table for weeks, with me mostly ignoring it because I know that working on my self-compassion and the negative things I tell myself is the next step. I have been too scared to show it to T because I know she thinks this too, and I am so scared to grow up and away from her. But maybe now’s the time to start flicking through it together. If I can start to feel a little more like I have options and ways to be okay, then the feelings of helplessness around being alone and without T will surely start to ease. I’m not ready to be apart from her yet (I’ve written this entire post with rabbit between my knees and T’s blanket almost entirely covering me and threaded through my fingers), but T is saying that that is okay. She isn’t making me ‘grow up’ any quicker than I’m ready to, she hasn’t left. Even when she’s cross, frustrated etc. she has stayed and yesterday she really proved that she cares for my soul as much as she ever did. We’ve weathered every storm possible together in the last three years, surely? There isn’t any emotion I haven’t felt about her, there isn’t anything we haven’t talked about (there are a few things I think we’ve glossed over but she’s at least aware they’re there). And yesterday, I felt warm again. It’s never going to be perfect – she could adopt me, spend 24/7 with me, and I would still be pining for that missing piece. That’s the nature of attachment issues and it’s something I’m just going to have to come to terms with. But considering that, feeling like I did yesterday is pretty special. It’s warmth in the very best way.
Recently, more and more people have been reading my first ever blog post (https://understandingmeandher.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/straightjacket-feeling/). It’s obviously coming up in search terms more frequently. When I read it back last week, I got very upset – some of what I wrote doesn’t feel like it has changed in the slightest.
This is a work in progress for me. I try to self-censor everything I say inside those rooms, just in case I let go too much and say something that might push them away. Years of abandonment mean I tense, waiting for the slam as the door closes behind them. When I do ‘overshare’, normally through a panic-attack or flashback, I flinch when my phone bings – awaiting the email to say, “I’m sorry, you’re more broken than we thought.” But still, I test the waters, dropping crumbs to see if they embrace them or run from them. And every time T1 embraces, I think, how lucky am I? To finally ‘be’ with someone who isn’t as scared as I am.
Upon re-reading the article I linked to, though, I’ve come to see the progress we’ve made in the last year and a bit. Of the twenty things that article suggests is helpful, T has done every single one. She shares parts of herself (and arguably, the parts that actually matter the most), she is a constant reminder that I am in the present and I am safe, she models values and beliefs about myself and what happened to me that feel impossible (you’re safe now, I believe you, what happened was wrong, it does matter, you are not dirty/broken, it wasn’t your fault etc.), she apologises when she gets things wrong, she stands by me through absolutely everything with genuine unconditional positive regard, she comes back to me every time. But the most important one is one that I didn’t post about in my first blog – which perhaps shows how far we’ve come. Carolyn writes in her article;
20. You can choose.
I didn’t know what it was to choose. The sense of an individual, automonous, able to be oneself, with wants and preferences and feelings and ideas: I didn’t understand this. I thought – really thought – that life was about survival, edging past other people’s moods and inconsistencies, winning their approval so that they wouldn’t hurt you, trying to fit in and blend into beige-like anonymity and avoid a low-revving constant sense of danger. As a child I had been allowed to choose, in an insidiously evil kind of way that destroyed my sense of free-will: sometimes I got to choose who raped me, or I could put my hand up to choose when the abuse was to start. ‘Choices’ I took to mean my ability to steer the best course through a crash waiting to happen – risk-management, seatbelt-clutching style. But now: You can choose. And the powerlessness of evaporated free-will against this new freedom, real freedom, grown-up tax-paying freedom, seemed a contrast too blinding to regard. You can choose: again and again, loud like a claxon, reminding me of me. I am me, and I can choose.
One of the last things T said to me yesterday was that I can choose. I have the power to stop the past repeating itself over and over. Throughout the last three years, this is maybe the biggest, most important lesson T has taught me. I can choose what I want to do with my life. I can choose who I want to be. I can choose who is part of my life, and who I leave in the past. I can choose when I want to be strong, and I can also choose when I want to hide in T’s shoulderblade and pretend the world is just me and her for a bit. Last week, when everything felt so uncertain and like we might be ending, I spent many hours talking to a friend about what I would do afterwards. That in itself is an incredible conversation – the fact that I now consider that there would be an ‘afterwards’, that I would have choices to make to keep myself safe. Before, there was no choice in being angry, being scared, being silent. These things were rules and that was that. Now we can choose to speak those things out loud, and no matter how uncomfortable they are (for both of us), I have that choice. I have that freedom where there was never freedom ‘Before’. Being able to choose doesn’t necessarily always mean making the right choice, or the most grown up choice, or even the choice I know she’d want me to make – and part of the ‘beginning’ for us must have felt fairly helpless for her as she watched me make the wrong choices over and over. But she’s stood by me, she’s mopped up the mess when I’ve made stupid choices, she’s been there every week, without fail, and she’s let me have my choice. You can choose. Some of the words T says absolutely blind me with their beauty and their truth, and these three are much the same. If I’ve learned nothing else in the three years we’ve worked together (though T will say I’ve learned plenty more), I’ve learned this. And that is progress, only a tiny step, but one taken in the most breathtakingly incredible way.
Happy three years, T. x