I know I say this all the time, but T is amazing.
There are some days when I sit with her for my allocated hour and really, I just want her to be a passive observer and occasional cheerleader. These are days when I am confident, when things have gone well and I have achieved goals either set by others or myself, or perhaps just that I’ve had a brilliant time with friends or enjoyed walking the dogs etc. On these days, I can hear myself talking in somewhat of a monologue, with T only really required to mmm and ahhh in the appropriate places. She always offers more than this, though – when I am in this place, she knows to celebrate my successes with me, to remind me of how far I’ve come, and to show me that whilst her care is unconditional, she’s genuinely pleased at my successes and the things that make me happy. She directly contrasts against my childhood experience of being trampled on when I’ve done anything well or enjoyed anything – my mother can’t cope with the success of others, so my happiness always came with an immediate fall. Not so with T. She celebrates and cheerleads for me – and when I am in this ‘fraction’ of my emotions or personality, she models a healthy backdrop upon which I can celebrate, enjoy and succeed as the capable adult I very occasionally feel like.
Two weeks ago, we had a session like this. I sat down and genuinely had nothing I needed to talk about. No pressing issues, no tearful thoughts, just general contentedness. And that was lovely, to have an hour with her as an adult where although we did eventually talk about my ex and things related, things were actually okay. I left at the end feeling fine. In the truest sense of the word, it was all ‘fine’.
That’s only one fraction of my whole.
It’s lovely when it happens, but therapy is hard right now. I mean, hard hard, the kind of hard work that is making me feel like I’ve run a marathon backwards when I fall into bed every day. T and I are deep into work on my attachment stuff, which is just the most painful and horrible work. I knew it would be sore, but my god it’s doing its best to kill me.
At the moment, therapy feels a little like rolling a weighted dice. T is absolutely wonderful because she manages to steer this ship, no matter which side lands face up. When I’m in a very adult place, she’s great. But my therapy dice isn’t weighted that way, and more often than not she is thrown into managing me whilst I’m dissociated, upset, triggered, angry, scared, etc. My GP regularly tells me that unless therapy is hard, it isn’t working, and I try to believe him, but I wish we could do without this almost unbearable, agonising pain, landing face up over and over again.
Attachment difficulties are regularly top of our agenda. In the last month or so, there feels to have been a real breakthrough in that my adult part now trusts T. I had always liked her, but trusting her seemed to be a constant sticking point. I am not sure how or why it has happened, but it has: I now trust T. I trust her when she says she won’t leave, I trust that she wouldn’t intentionally hurt me, I trust that when she goes away, she will come back to me. This feeling is immensely fragile, but the beauty of it astounds me. But despite this progress, in general things seem to be getting harder.
Fridays have become a huge trigger. The transition between working week to weekend has never been a particularly big issue before, but now it is enormous. I am sleeping poorly on Thursday night, dreaming of terror and torture and the consequences of my vulnerability. I wake up feeling scared and needy, which then escalates during the day in preparation for this invisible transition. Last weekend, it got so bad that Little was in a screaming panic. It feels to me like she needs to do that young child thing of pressing buttons over and over to prove she will get the same result. I know T cares – she shows her care in everything she does, from the way she holds my hand to the cross voice she uses when she’s worried about me. I also have her blanket on long-term loan – everything about it is so ‘her’ – warm, soft, comforting, bright green… Plus, we have the thousands of beautifully written words, scattered through hundreds of emails and texts and journal notes, trying to reassure me of all the things she feels or believes. It isn’t like I don’t have the evidence, but the fraction most present is Little, who at the moment cannot seem to retain any of the care T shows for us.
Little is totally wrapped up in needing T every second of every day. Last weekend, she got into a total tizz because despite all the evidence I have, Little needed T to be thinking about her right now. Her urgency with which she needs T horrifies and astounds me, and is currently unmanageable. I try to support Little by allowing her time to cuddle Rabbit, hide under T’s blanket, I take T’s polar bear everywhere with us for support. I have worked really hard in recent months to allow her this space to be comforted in such childlike ways – being self-compassionate does not come naturally to me, so this has been a real struggle. Despite my struggle (or perhaps in spite of?), it doesn’t seem to work and if anything it makes her worse. Sitting with Rabbit makes her crave sitting with T. Being wrapped in T’s blanket makes her crave holding T’s hand. EVERYTHING makes her crave T – everything. It feels unmanageable because I cannot silence her needs – I cannot give her a pill and make her shut up. She feels, in this horribly intense way, just below my rib cage, ALL the time.
Truthfully, I’m pretty sure I’m causing most of the problem. I get so frustrated with Little feeling this way – I am ashamed of the intensity of her emotions, embarrassed by the open-hearted way she loves and needs, scared of the consequences of this level of contact (T will burn out, she’ll get cross and leave, etc.), and unable to sit with this level of physical and emotional agony. So, I spend most of my time being absolutely horrible to Little. I respond to her cries with negativity and shaming words, which in turn make her worse (and ironically seem to inflate her desperate need to prove T still cares). I spend a lot of time telling myself/Little that T doesn’t care, we’re only a job, she loves her children far more, we’re worthless to her, she will hate us for our behaviours etc etc etc. Looking at it rationally, I can see why my very fragile, traumatised Little doesn’t take too kindly to my anger – but I can’t help it. She needs with such intensity that I cannot cope – so I try to silence her. But in silencing her, she just screams louder (thanks, T, for giving this six-year-old demon such a compelling voice). So loud, that I now feel like my adult is sat in a corner, hands over my ears, rocking.
This week has mostly consisted of T trying to help me and Little understand the difference between availability and care. For Little, if someone isn’t instantly available or directly present, they don’t care. Not only do they not care, but in her absence they will be plotting against her or bitching or generally being horrible. When she needs T right now, and I try to prevent that contact, she point blank cannot cope because unless she can prove to herself that T cares in that very second, she must not care. Even worse than not being cared about, is her feeling that she is being silenced or being put back in that godawful torture box with nobody who cared, or even knew she was there. ‘Not being available’ translates in Little’s head into ‘doesn’t love me’, ‘doesn’t remember me’ or ‘doesn’t care’, which leads to some almighty meltdowns at transition points. In therapy this week, I sat with T for an hour in an outrageously painful but relatively co-conscious place. Until she said the four most painful words in the world: “we need to finish”. Little switched in, I switched out and eventually Sass had to kick in and fish us out of there. In T’s hallway, I wobbled backwards into her – she hugged me, but propped me up and we still ended, of course. Those four words triggered the most horrific reaction, leading to hysterical, hot tears sat in my car, feeling too young to drive home. I work super hard not to cry in front of T, but it did mean that all those tears had nowhere to go until I was on my own, which was then completely overwhelming. That spilled on through the night into yesterday, by which point I was just about in work, but Little was absolutely not coping in any way. T and I spoke again yesterday evening, whilst adult me was trying to drive to my parents’ house. It’s always the same fucking worries; don’t leave, don’t die, be safe, still care, don’t forget, don’t leave me with them, please please please please. I hate the neediness and pathetic nature of those conversations, and T can’t think they’re much fun either. But they have to be had – it feels like Little literally cannot survive without having that reassurance. It doesn’t matter that she’ll have said those exact reassuring words a million times before – there is no retention for Little.
One thing T did flag up yesterday was that I counteract the positive things she says to me with immediate negativity. Perfect example: in our session this week, she said to me, “I never pretend to you, I promise.” Little noticeably relaxed upon hearing this – promises mean everything to that 6 year old and she palpably calmed. But my adult head kicked in – she has to say that, she isn’t going to tell me she’s lying, she’s just saying that so I calm down, she doesn’t mean it, she’s lying she’s lying she’s lying. This thought process then counteracts any positive feelings Little had because, well, what if it’s true? What if she is lying?…..and the spiral of panic begins again. T pulled me up on this last night: “you have heard you are loved now. That isn’t going to change tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day.” And somehow, those words, we’ve managed to retain because I’ve just about stopped myself from belittling them and destroying them with my mantras that go round and round.
Hmm, perhaps I’m not trusting T quite as much as I think I am. It feels like maybe I now trust the boundary fences – the big, important non-negotiables, like ‘she won’t leave me’. But everything within that fence is still to play for. And my adult head is so determined to destroy anything positive with our beliefs that we are not worthy of that much care.
One last thing that has stuck from this week – in my rant to T during our session that I cannot cope with Little’s intense feelings, I was very mean to Little. She’s stupid, she doesn’t have the life experience to know that nobody is going to care about us ever, she is so stupid, she hopes for something she can never have. T responded, “isn’t it beautiful that she hasn’t lost that hope?” At the time I said a resounding no, and choked back the tears it brought up. Tears because yes, it is truly beautiful that this child, completely trapped in the most horrific years of my life, obviously in that time still wholeheartedly hoped for someone to love her. For someone to save her. She looks for love with this wide-eyed expectation that it must be somewhere – she throws herself at people’s feet in this sacrificial way, hoping that somebody will pick her up and fix the broken pieces. At whatever time she got stuck in, she still loved with her whole heart, and still had belief that somebody, somewhere would love her back in the same way. She embarrasses me with her need for hand-holding, heartbeat-listening, story-telling love – I could have died of shame when she noticeably relaxed whilst T was describing the colours of clouds she could see yesterday, and in our session this week I absolutely could not have looked at T because of the shame absolutely pulling me down. I am ashamed of it, and shamed by all the bad things I became in my life that means nobody will ever care in the way she needs. But the beauty of her open-armed, naked and exposed love and hope – it’s there. I can see it and I hugely value her ability to keep that hope in a life where I’ve lost all hope.
I ache because of her, and for her. The ‘because of her’ is obvious – this agony is unbearable. But the ‘for her’, I take less time to acknowledge. She is suffering a living hell that she is unable to escape from right now. The agonies of her insecure attachments are absolutely tortuous for her. She is tortured by what happened to us (and what is still happening for her). She is tortured by trying to live in an adult world where I work and T works and everyone is busy in a way that they just aren’t for their newborns. And then, despite all the hell she lives through, she is tortured by me. She lives with this beautiful hope that I constantly belittle and trample over – modelled no doubt on my mother’s ability to do the same. She can’t ever have what she wants 100% – nobody, ever, can rewrite the abandonment that happened in her first few hours and her first few years. But I don’t even let her have what she can have – I don’t let her relax fully into T’s lyrical voice telling me about clouds, I don’t let her fully hear T saying she cares today, and tomorrow, and the next day. I don’t let her have what she can have, and that almost feels like a punishment, from me to her.
I work with 6 year olds, and T reminded me yesterday that I don’t treat any of my kids in this way. She is right. When they can’t have what they want (their mum, a Lego toy, a spaceship to fly to the moon), I hold their hands and use my calmest, steadiest, warmest professional voice to tell them that it’s okay that you’re sad because you are missing *insert object or thing here*. But this is what we can do – would you like a story/to play with someone else/a hug etc. I probably do this half a dozen times a day – manage their expectations by soothing and reorienting. It might not be perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than them being stuck pining for what they can’t have. Yet I don’t do this for Little, ever. T does; she hugs, holds or talks about kangaroos or clouds to me in the full knowledge that she’s never going to be able to fill the hole 100%. Yet she does it anyway.
The tantrum that we’re never going to fill the attachment hole 100% is my tantrum, not Little’s. If I could stop having such an ‘all or nothing’ approach, surely Little will start to be able to hold for a little longer onto the abundant care that is all around us. Oh, therapy. I didn’t realise I had to rewrite everything about myself and my nature, change all my coping strategies and my reference points for who I am, in order to make all my fractions become one whole. It’s hard, but I am so blessed that T is here for the journey, and so lucky that all the trauma and torture hasn’t extinguished absolutely every flame of hope.