Last week, T and I had the most beautiful, healing session of our entire three years working together.
In an email the week before, T suggested to me that a way of dealing with my awful nightmares might be to have a book of good things I could read when I wake in a panic. I am always frozen in terror under my duvet, so I wouldn’t be able to get up and read a book, but the idea of having a story I could retell myself in my head sounded like a good plan. As a child, when I woke from nightmares, I would force myself to think of butterflies. I’ve lost the ability to self-soothe as I’ve grown up (and I’ve also developed a slight fear of butterflies!), but I used to be able to – so I must be able to teach myself again.
I went to our local bookshop (…any excuse!) and sat in the corner for a while, flicking through children’s books and trying to find a story that Little would connect to and I would feel comfortable retelling. I bought two, both by Oliver Jeffers – ‘The Heart in the Bottle’ and ‘Lost and Found’. I also bought another book, one recommended by an educational psychologist to read to children with attachment disorder – ‘No Matter What’ by Debi Gliori. I couldn’t quite open this one, the front cover of the book has an adult fox and a little fox cuddled up together, but I was ensured that it would be supportive for children who struggle to retain positive thoughts. So, with these three books in my bag, off I went to T.
We spent the first part of our session talking about some really tricky stuff to do with my childhood and my brother. My younger brother is having a life crisis of his very own right now, and I am finding it extremely hard, because I feel quite responsible. I worry that some of my actions and behaviours as a child might have been harmful to him, and I feel like a dirty, evil monster. One of Them. I feel responsible, but also traumatised by the memories. Little was very present whilst I tried to talk about them, and we were wrapped up in T’s blanket, cuddled up into the sofa, with Rabbit and my hair covering my face. Eventually, when I couldn’t take any more talking, I showed T the three books and she read each one through silently in her head whilst I hid. When she was finished, she placed them down at my feet. Little whispered, “read one.” She asked me if she could read ‘No Matter What’ to me. I must have nodded, because without any more words, she came and sat on the sofa with me and she read me the book.
The book is a truly beautiful children’s story. It starts with a small fox, making a mess and having a strop. ‘Small was feeling grim and dark…Small said, “I’m a grim and grumpy little Small and nobody loves me at all.”‘ Large, the big fox, then says, ‘Grumpy or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.’ The book then carries on, with Small testing this theory, and Large repeating the same reassurance – ‘Small said, “If I was a grizzly bear, would you still love me, would you care?” “Of course,” said Large, “bear or not, I’ll always love you, no matter what.”‘
T read the whole book to me, whilst I snuggled into her shoulder and peeped at the book, listening to the lyrical tones of T’s voice read me the most beautiful words I had ever heard. T read the whole story, with different character voices, and talked to me about the illustrations; the rubber ducks in the bathtub and the toy Small plays with.
I have absolutely no memories of reading with my mum, or being read to at all as a child – I know she must have (because I’m a very capable reader!), but I have no memories. It was utterly incredible and overwhelmingly healing to have the story read to me, particularly because the message was so poignant.
At the end, we sat in silence for a few minutes, me leaning against her and her just holding me and the safety and the emotions, as she always does. Eventually, Little squeaked, “I think I’m even worse than the crocodile”….. and T, bless her, responded immediately with, “…and I love you.” I started talking far too quickly because I just was so overwhelmed by the incredible beauty of what she said… I said “I think you’re mad, I wouldn’t love a crocodile”, and she repeated herself: “I don’t think I am mad, and I love you.” All those hours telling me she doesn’t blame me, she doesn’t judge me, she believes me, etc.. All proven and validated in one story book reading.
She put her hand on top of mine and we sat like that for a few moments. I felt brave enough after a little while to say that I knew we needed to finish, and we packed up without the crisis panic feelings that sometimes rise in me at the ending. On the way out she gave me the most warm, comforting hug and I just melted all over again.
This is it, folks. This is secure attachment. This is the most incredible therapist and person, doing her very best to provide Little and I with as many of the things that we missed as possible. She can’t be our mother, and she cannot possibly provide Little with the 24/7 newborn care she so patently missed out on, but she can read books, care for us and tell us so – just, wow.
We have had a session this evening – tricky, because I still could not tell her the last big secret. We moved away from that today (T knows I’ll tell her when I’m ready), so we talked about Little and her need for T at the moment. Halloween was a horrific nightmare of an evening, spent sleeping in my bathroom because the door has a lock (just in case the three between me and the outside world wasn’t enough anyway..) and Little was convinced we were going to be killed. We’ve had a few awful nights where my attachment need for her is absolutely overwhelming, and it is very hard to feel that way whilst also leading a successful and often very happy life. There have been a few difficulties because Little’s attachment cries seem triggered by being tired, being ill or being cold – all of which have happened this week. I find it very hard to see the progress that I am making, but T reassures me that she can. There are changes that I can only agree to noticing – we used to speak or text daily, often more than that. Regularly, we were talking when I had reached crisis point, so it felt a bit like being inside a pinball machine, bouncing around and smashing off emotional walls. Now, I email her frequently but I almost never text her, and we often have weeks where we don’t speak on the phone in between sessions. Little’s ache for her is still unbearably strong at times, but she is clearly managing better as our contact has evolved.
Tonight is a rough night – work is taking over my life next week, and so I cannot attend a session with her. This means it is 14 days before we will next see each other. We have booked to speak on Monday and Wednesday next week, but two weeks without her still feels unmanageable to Little. I texted her, when I got home from our session – a panicky, young text. She replied, “You are not without me. I am here. Day by day.” I replied, short on words, “no matter what?” She immediately replied, “No matter what yes yes yes!” No matter what. No matter what. Is that the most beautiful, love-filled, soul-affirming, healing three words in the world?
I am so lucky to have her. Through all the impossibly negative thoughts I think about myself, through all the nights in the past few weeks where I’ve laid awake worrying about being evil, being bad, and had fearful nightmares about her leaving me and being abandoned… We’ve come through, and we keep coming through. The thoughts still happen, but she is a constant slightly nagging force in my life to encourage me to change the words I tell myself. Tonight is wobbly, because two weeks may as well be a lifetime for Little. But I’m going to sleep feeling like I’m in a warm, safe, comfort filled bubble tonight. It is absolutely divine. And the care that’s made me feel this way… it’s ‘no matter what’.xx