Friday marked two years of T and I working privately together.
I’m a big tracker of dates. Huge. I think it is probably because time often feels abstract to me – particularly during periods when I am losing time, or when trying to remember something that happened when I was losing time… there is something ordered and controlled about knowing that it is exactly one year, two years, ten years etc. EXACTLY. The ‘exactly’ is the important part.
I’m not sure those around me are great fans of my date tracking, because anniversaries make me quite pensive and evaluative. They inevitably lead to questions like, how much has happened, how far have I come, what improvements have I made… and usually I go a bit quiet around anniversaries, because I am ashamed of the answers to these questions.
But this one… two years with T. I don’t know. I emailed T on Friday, saying “I feel a bit overwhelmed by it”. I said I had a lot of thoughts swirling around, that I would try to blog it out… that’s still true, so here is the post!
Lots has changed in these two years. I had known T for about 18 months before I graduated from uni and we started privately, but uni therapy was always uncertain – I flew through the allocated 8 sessions, and then after that it became a process of requests for extensions and relative uncertainty. I say ‘relative’, because to be fair to T, she sheltered me from almost all of this – but when I requested and read the notes kept on me, it became really clear that the solidity of our relationship was always balancing on service resources and the possibility of a swift ending. Whenever I moan at T and say I am making no progress, I always say the longer time – about 3.5 years – we’ve worked together. Without fail, she challenges me that we didn’t start working intensively, properly, until that July. She’s right – (she’s always right!) – before was firefighting. Now is so much more.
At the beginning of my therapy process, I wrote some targets. They all feature three similar things – a desire to develop secure relationships, a desire to be able to find peace with myself, what happened and current relationships, and a desire to look after and value myself. I’ve shared them with both T and R in the last few days, and what is so magical about them is how far I’ve come. Some of them can be completely crossed off the list. Some of them are hugely improved. There are only one or two that I still feel need to be targets. At some point, I will write myself a new target list – I feel I need to have a renewed action plan for therapy. But sharing these targets with T and R has created a huge appreciation for how far I’ve come in the last two years.
When I started with T, I had absolutely no idea who I was. I had been hiding from myself for my whole life, and I was trapped in the end of a very dysfunctional relationship which was entirely dependent on me hiding my true self from him and the outside world around us. I had maybe one friend who understood that things had been difficult in my background, but really even with her there wasn’t much true openness. When university ended, and my relationship shortly after, the greatest challenge was that I didn’t know myself at all. I can remember the absolutely overwhelming panic that pulsed through me in the first few days when I realised that I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing without him, what I needed, or even stupid things like what I wanted to eat for dinner or what toilet roll I wanted to buy (instead of what he had previously prescribed). I had no idea who I was – but T has been there through me, throughout the entire process of ‘finding myself’. It’s cliched and embarrassing, but I literally had to find out who I was. That involved some more simple things (like what food I liked, which side of the bed I wanted to sleep on, what films did I enjoy…) but also some intensely complicated things, too. Who am I, when I am not his? Who is this small child inside me that needs to be held and read to when she is sad? Who is this older child who has storms inside her that can smash me up, as well as the space around us? I knew there were times when I felt so small I could die, or so much anger that I could smash through glass, but whenever I had those feelings I shut them down and silenced them for fear of what they were, and what they made me if I felt them.
The last two years have been the most intense journey of finding myself, whilst T has steadied the ship. I teach small children, and one of the most important parts of my role is being a stable adult, whilst they reach out and try new things – we quite often call it “safe, stretch or danger”. You don’t want children to be safe and bored – you want them to be challenging themselves to learn – but you definitely don’t want them to be in a danger zone where it’s too much, too overwhelming and potentially damaging. The difference between the stretch zone and the danger zone is the supportive people around them – trying something when you know there is a safe adult to fall back on is a whole lot different to trying something when you know that, if you fall, you’ll be wiping your knees yourself. T has been that safe, secure, steadying adult – as I lived by myself for the first time, as I got my first job, as I made new friends, as I started dating… they’re all things that would have been far too dangerous, impossibly so, to have attempted by myself – but with T holding my hand (figuratively and literally!) they have become possible. I have found myself, in the safety and security of her.
Part of finding myself was accepting what happened to me. When I started with T, I held a huge sense of shame around what happened to me. I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened without the most intense, overwhelming shame, and I felt defined by the secrets I was keeping. I was still completely trapped in the beliefs that They taught me – if you tell, we will kill the people you tell. If you tell, you will be punished. This led to lots of panicky emailing after therapy sessions where I was convinced that I had said too much and the person would now die. I’m not going to say this never happens, now – but I can’t remember the last time it did.
Accepting what happened to me, without shame, has then led to another of my goals – being able to reach out for help when I need it. To be able to say ‘I’m not coping’ just wasn’t something I was able to do, before T showed me that the world doesn’t end if I’m not coping. My upbringing and relationship with my mother meant that I had to appear perfect at all times – except this used to cause a sort of stuttering, leaping, stalling motion through my life, where I coped, coped, coped and then absolutely crashed and burned… then coped, coped, coped again. It has taken a very long time for T to convince me of her ‘no matter what’, but 99% of the time I believe that she will still love me and still care about me and still be there next week, no matter what I think I’ve done that is bad. When we were playing the ‘would you leave me if…’ game a few months ago, she said something about how the only reason she would stop seeing me is if I physically hurt her or trashed her stuff – and then we would just need to switch to phone sessions. I can remember thinking at the time (even though I would never ever do anything like that!!) that even then she wouldn’t leave me. Her ‘no matter what’ really, genuinely means No. Matter. What. My value to her is not based on how good I am at work or how pretty I am or all those other judgements my mother makes about me all the time… and because of that, I feel whole when I am with T. I feel whole, because no part of me has to be left at the door. I am whole because of her acceptance. Her ‘no matter what’.
I feel safe with her. In the last session before I left uni, I was sat at her feet because I had been drawing on some paper on the coffee table. It was a horrible session and I must have been feeling all sorts of shame because when she leant forward to offer me a hand up, I flinched and recoiled backwards. In the two years that have passed, I have been able to let those defence mechanisms down with her, and because I am practising it with her, it is beginning to sneak into other relationships, too. All those fears that I used to have, that I would be hurt if I had been bad… She’s rewriting them. Even when she gets cross with me (which is rarely, but it does happen!) I don’t fear her. I feel safe with her even when I am sad, even when I am triggered, even when I am tired… there are very few people in the world who I feel safe with, and she was absolutely the first person that I felt totally, 100% safe with. And as much as sometimes I want to throttle T when she tells me ‘it’s not happening now’ when the flashbacks and panic emotions feel very ‘now’, she has somehow managed to drill those words into my brain with enough success that I believe her, not Them. I trust her – and through trusting her was then able to trust GP – and between the two of them, I know I am safe. I know they would not let me get hurt now. T has taught me what safety means, and created it around me. I’ve found my feet in it and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is. I still need that experience of being safe – of hearing her heartbeat, hearing her read to me, pressing fingers against fingers or her rubbing my back… but it’s there. It’s safety. Little can’t quite believe it.
I said to R yesterday that something feels like it has shifted in the past month or so. For the first time ever, I can see a time when I am not in therapy in the way I am now. I’m still thinking in years, not weeks, but for the first time I can see it – me, whole and happy and secure enough in our relationship and what I’ve learned from her that maybe sessions become more stretched out. I know there is a time after that when sessions are so infrequent they are catch ups, not therapy in the intense way it is now. I will always want a connection to T, but that is the same with all the people I care about – I don’t ever want to become strangers – but I can see a time when I will be ready to not be in this intense, overwhelming and sometimes really painful world of therapy. It’s on the horizon.
GP said to me on Friday evening that T ‘saved my life’. He’s right, she has. There have been days and weeks when, were it not for her presence, I would not still be here. But it’s so much more than that. In the two years we’ve been working privately together, she’s given me life. Helped me to build myself, nurture myself, add facets to my internal tapestry so it has become detailed and rich. She has shaped it, smoothing the painful, rough bits which, whilst they still need to be a part of my fabric, do not need to be main features any more. She’s protected this life when I’ve thrown fire and ice at it in an uncontrollable rage, reminded me that I am being unkind when I starve, cut, berate myself. I feel overwhelmed when I think about the last two years because of her importance to me – the life she’s helped me build has threads of herself woven the whole way through, so intricately that it would be impossible to remove them. I am reminded of her when I’m by the sea, when I watch clouds, when I see purple things… even if she was to vanish tomorrow, she is woven intrinsically into my life. A poet called Paul Eluard wrote, “J’entends ta voix dans tous les bruits du monde” or, “I hear your voice in all the world’s noise”… Those threads stay – throughout everything, in all the world’s noise, no matter what. And I am stronger because of them. I am stronger because of her. I am, because of her.
Happy two years, T. Thank you.