Endings: Standing On The Brink Of The Unknown

Being in therapy is being in a relationship. Therefore it follows that ending therapy is an as complex and complicated – and sometimes painful – process as ending any other relationship. There are loose ends and jagged edges to deal with, memories – good and bad – to look back at, and a struggle to not panic and in desperation seek to go back to something that just isn’t there anymore.

I have always said that things that are familiar are often also comforting to us, even when The Familiar isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself. The Familiar is comforting because it keeps The Unknown at bay. And nothing is more frightening than The Unknown.

I have four more sessions left with A.
Four more sessions, after more than four and a half years of working together. In short: it is nothing. I am standing only millimetres away from The Unknown, and I have to find the courage to not turn and run, but rather to allow myself step in to and somehow tolerate existing within it.

I have been spending a lot of time over the Chrismukkah therapy break thinking about what exactly it is that makes this ending feel so difficult, because, intellectually I can see that ending work with A. has more or less become a necessity, both because I am unable to give her the reassurance that she needs that I won’t end my life, and – perhaps more importantly – because we have simply come as far as we can, working together. The conclusions I have reached, as to why the ending is difficult is summed up in the first paragraph of this post; this is the end of a very special relationship, so how could it not be difficult? But, on top of that ‘normal’ difficulty, apart from the anxiety and sadness and sense of loss that any ending brings with it, I think that there is something I need to take from this relationship, which I fear A. might deny me, and this is what makes it so much more painful.

In November, when I finished counselling with Z. – that, too, was a difficult ending. But, I do feel that in the last few sessions – and especially in the very last one – Z. managed to provide me with that one thing I needed: the reassurance that it mattered to her too, that we would not be working together anymore. That I had made an impact on her. That she would actually miss seeing me. What I am talking about here is not a need to be told that I am her favourite person ever to work with, but something far more simple; an open acknowledgement of the fact that working with me is special, because I am special: there is only one of me. So even though my slot would soon be filled by someone else, someone just as engaging, it is still different, because the relationship between Z. and I could only happen because of who we are as individuals, and what we accomplished in those sessions was specific to our relationship, to what we jointly brought to the table.

I talked with A. about this ending at the time, explaining that those things Z. said to me meant a lot, and significantly helped make that ending, if not less difficult, at least not painful, and left me with something positive to carry forward. The fact that Z. actually told me these things, actually said them out loud, rather than simply assume that the way we had been working together and the way we relate would automatically lead me to know it, I think is important. People who have been abused tend not to take things like that for granted, because actions and the meanings of those actions have been so terribly mixed up and confused in the past.

So, I suppose, what I would like from A. is something similar. I’m not talking about any earth shatteringly emotional revelations or dramatic proclamations, but just something said, in clear plain direct speech, about the work we have been doing and about what this ending means.

I asked A. earlier in the year if I matter to her, and she decided to not answer my question, and I am sure she has her reasons for that, but, I think what I need – especially now – is for her to step away from those reasons, whatever they are, and just meet me openly and honestly. The lack of this direct communication in the last few months, is part of why therapy is now coming to an end, and seeing as there will be no Next Session in which to analyse why I asked the question, an answer would be good, would provide me with that Something that I need.

But, as I wrote earlier, my fear is that A. will not opt to go down this route of openness and honesty, and this is where I feel the pain is created. To need to hear that working with me has mattered to her, that getting to know me, hearing my thoughts, means something, is important, and to leave, having been denied it, would be excruciatingly painful.

Of course, I don’t know that this will be how things end, and I really hope that A. will have taken onboard the things I said about ending with Z., and what made that a more positive ending. But, the fear is still there, looming like a dark cloud over my head.. I am seeing A. for the first time after the break tomorrow, and I will carry on talking about all of these things with her, as I had been before the break. I just hope that her response will be different.

*

Before concluding this post, I just wanted to say thank you to all who have emailed me following my last post. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to reply to all of you, but, hopefully, in time, I will. I know that this post hasn’t really been a direct follow-up on the previous one, and it isn’t because I am trying to shy away from the seriousness of the situation, which remains sadly unchanged, but because I feel that – for now – I need to try to deal with things in slightly smaller chunks, and if that means navigating by auto-pilot for a little while, well, so be it. As my sister said We much prefer Auto-Pilot to No Pilot..

But, once again, thank you all for your very kind emails and comments. They have been read, heard and appreciated.

Much love,

xx

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Scaffolding

I was supposed to be dead by now.

It feels kind of strange to write it, but it is true, nonetheless. A little over four weeks ago was when it was supposed to happen. I had booked the hotel room where I was going to go to, to end my life. I had everything I needed to do it. I was completely at peace with the idea of going through with it, felt satisfied that I had tried my very hardest to get onto a different path. There was only One Last Thing I needed to do before setting my plan in motion. Except chance intervened and stopped me from being able to do that One Last Thing, and there was no way I could go ahead with ending my life without that.

So, instead I ended up going another round at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. I was offered a place, having initially been turned down for it, as I was deemed too high risk to be safely contained there. Nothing had really changed between the time I was initially assessed and when I eventually took up a place, but, I banked on my good personal credit that if I made an absolute promise that I would not act to end my life as long as I was staying in the house, staff would trust me enough to let me have a place. As long-term followers of this blog will be aware, I made a very serious attempt at ending my life the very first time I stayed at Drayton many years ago, and ever since then I have developed a rather special relationship both with the staff and with the place itself. It has been a go-to place for me in times of real crisis, a place to sort out my feelings, to create space for myself without having to worry about anyone else, somewhere I feel safe enough to really stay with myself, if that makes sense.

This time was very different. Not because the above things were no longer true – they still were – but because in complete contrast to all other times I have gone there, this time I went into Drayton Park with absolutely no belief whatsoever that anything was going to change while I was staying there. The reasons for wanting to end my life were – and still are – things that could not change through short term crisis intervention. But, I decided to take up a place at Drayton Park, in spite of this. I went there in part because I wanted my loved ones to know that I hadn’t just given up without one last fight, and partly to buy myself time, because as much as I didn’t believe that anything would really change, I also accepted that I haven’t got a telescope to the future, and consequently couldn’t know for sure that I wouldn’t be proven wrong. And I desperately wanted to be proven wrong. I desperately wanted something to change.

A number of big things happened during my time at Drayton Park.
Firstly, counselling with Z. came to an end on the day I took up residence. Secondly, I made a decision that long term therapy with A. will have to come to an end after more than four and a half years of working together. A. made it very clear to me earlier in the year that she is not able to work with me under the threat of suicide, and as I am someone who simply will not make a promise I don’t know I can keep, the only fair thing to do was to set an end date to therapy. Finally, in the last few weeks I have been under assessment of the personality disorder services to see whether or not I should be offered a place with them. I have had very mixed feelings about this from day one, have very little hope that there really is anything in it for me, but again, I try to keep an open mind rather than closing doors.

With all of these things going on, and feeling completely stripped of any hope that there truly is anything out there that could change how I feel about ending my life, I decided to use my time at Drayton Park to go against what my heart was telling me – a very foreign concept to me. To hold on, rather than to let go.

I spent my three weeks at Drayton Park actively putting up scaffolding around my life, in spite of the very real and painful belief that it was utterly futile to do so.

I put scaffolding up by carrying on with the assessment process with the personality disorder services, even though I was reasonably certain that neither DBT nor MBT were really for me, that I don’t quite fit the bill. More scaffolding went up by re-arranging the end date with A.; it has now been planned so that rather than going from twice weekly therapy to nothing from one day to the next – which was the original idea, and which on reflection felt unnecessarily harsh – we will instead carry on with twice weekly sessions until A. goes on her Chrismukkah break later this week, and then go on to do one month of weekly sessions at the beginning of next year to allow for a tapered, more emotionally gentle, ending. Further scaffolding was created by contacting Z. and asking her and her supervisor to have a think about who they might be able to refer me to, for longer term trauma focused work. Someone who might be willing to work with me, knowing what the full situation is, in terms of suicidal ideation.

I also threw myself into expressing myself through writing, taking part in two creative writing workshops facilitated by the most fabulous Leah Thorn, and was able to share some of my feelings about life and death at a poetry reading during the annual Open Day, which happened to be held during my stay at Drayton Park. [Click here to read one of the poems I read that day].

I was discharged from Drayton Park a week ago today.
I don’t feel any different in terms of wanting to allow my very tired soul to rest. I wish I did, but I just don’t.

However, I am carrying on with the building work I started while at Drayton Park: I am working with the crisis resolution team to have some extra support for the first few weeks of being back home. The extended assessment with the personality disorder people has come to an end. In the only way the NHS knows how an Expert was brought in [in the shape of a clinical psychiatrist I had never met before in my life] to try figure out what the heck to do with me. It was ultimately decided that I was probably right: I don’t quite fit the bill and neither DBT nor MBT is going to be particularly suitable for me. However, although I won’t be enrolled on the personality disorder programme with all that that would have entailed, I have been given a care co-ordinator [henceforth called E.], who I will be meeting with somewhat regularly, to have someone within the blessed NHS who knows me and who I can turn to in a crisis.

Z.’s supervisor also got back to me with a name for a specific psychotherapist who she felt might be a very good match for me for long term work, and I will be having an initial consultation with her tomorrow to see if her gut feeling proves right. Although I don’t necessarily feel that even this type of work will really have the power to change anything, I am trying my best once again to at least be open to the possibility that it could have something to offer – and – for a naturally analytically minded person such as myself, at least this type of therapy [trauma work with an experienced attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapist] makes far better sense than either DBT or MBT.

In my therapy with A. I have tried to be brave and really explore what this big change, this ending of our work together, means to me, and how it makes me feel, the deep sadness it brings out in me. It’s not easy, but I am hoping that through being as open and honest about my feelings as I can, it will make for a more manageable ending.

So, that – dear readers – is where I am at:
In the process of building something that may or may not stand the test of time.

I do hope that it will, but right now, it is simply too soon to tell.

 

Much love,

 

xx

A Fork In The Road – Choosing A Path

A. has been away since the Friday before last, and it feels like it has been our longest break ever. There is just something about this particular break that has felt sort of endless. Of course, this hasn’t really been the longest one, seeing as she was off on maternity leave last year, but it has felt incredibly long.

I think one part of it is the fact that I have been living in a heightened state of fear ever since I ran into M., and not having A. there to talk it through with has been hard. Yes, I’ve still had Z., but since that’s the place where I’ve seen M., I haven’t been able to relax at all, and that – naturally – has had a direct impact on my ability to open up and talk about things; it is very hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a place where you don’t feel safe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to do just that. But, still, it’s in my sessions with A. I usually feel most safe, more sheltered from both external and internal storms. In fact, this is where I am least likely to experience flashbacks. Sure, I do still have the occasional flashback when I’m with A., but it happens a whole heap less there than anywhere else.

A. is back tomorrow, and that’s a good thing, for sure. I feel that there is a lot that has happened in the eleven days since I last saw her, and there is a lot of catching up to do. Prior to A. going on leave I had a session where I tried to be brave and share my concerns regarding not feeling sure about where our therapeutic relationship and work is headed, or even where I would like it to go.

There is one part of me who is listening closely – perhaps even a little too closely – to other people, who all seem to be suggesting that perhaps I am overly attached to A., and that I have really come as far as I can, working with A. That I may have outgrown her, in a sense, and the time has come to start over with someone else. And at the same time there is the intense pull in the opposite direction: that while there are many things that are less than ideal in our relationship and the way we have been working together, there is a golden opportunity here to work things through, to have a different experience to what I have had in many previous therapies.

I think what troubles me most is the fact that I feel so completely in the dark about my own motives for wishing to go in either of these directions. Is thinking about terminating my work with A. really a result of outgrowing something, or is it a case of the exact polar opposite? That, actually, having spent years only dipping my toes I am now dangerously close to allowing myself to dive in head first? Perhaps terminating is a way for me to avoid having to do that? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened. In at least three previous therapies I’ve managed to find an ‘out’, when things have got a little too hot. Maybe I am really just repeating a pattern here? To cut and run, rather than stay and face my fears?

And, at the same time, is my wish to stay with A. purely about this opportunity to go deeper than I have done before, or is it rooted in fear of letting go of the emotional safety blanket A. has been providing for me in the last four and a half years? Change can be a pretty scary thing, and sometimes we all need a little push in the right direction to dare take that final step off the beaten path.

I definitely feel that working with Z., alongside A., in the last few months has been a very positive experience, has made me reflect on the work I have been doing with A. It has helped clarify in my mind what I feel has sometimes been lacking. But, equally, it has highlighted the things I really appreciate in my relationship with A., the things I find a little overbearing in my work with Z.

In many ways, therapy with A. is a very independent endeavour; I am most definitely in the driver’s seat, choosing which roads to go down, which ones to avoid, and what speed we should be travelling at. Counselling with Z. is a lot more directed, something which became very clear when she expressed concern that we may be dipping too deep into things. And, at the same time, Z. is a lot more head on than A. She often asks very direct questions about what’s going on for me, what I am feeling, and, particularly – what I feel about our relationship, pushing me to go to a place where it is a little scary to be. And, this is an area where A. and I don’t really manage to communicate all that well. I am not sure if this is down to me and my fears, or if it is a situation A. and I have created jointly, but I do know that it is absolutely one of the things I would like to change.

A. made a comment when I talked about this, among many other things, in one of the last sessions before this break, which I feel is both valid and makes me worry. She said that all these questions I have about our work together, the uncertainty of where we are going, the not knowing where I would like to go, echoes very loudly in the rest of my life: there is a lack of clear direction and a strong feeling of being pulled in two opposite directions [the wish to live and work through things, and a darker pull towards giving up and ending my life].

As I wrote earlier, this comment does have some validity: I can see the echo, and I get what A. was trying to tell me. And at the same time, there is some frustration on my part about the way A. tends to see most everything I say about our relationship as a direct echo of something bigger in the world outside of her consulting room, the way she sometimes seems reluctant to allow me [us] to fully explore what’s there inside those four walls. My general view is that, yes – there are often echoes of the outside world being reenacted in A.’s and my relationship, but, that this doesn’t mean that what is going on between the two of us isn’t equally real and in need of being worked through. One doesn’t negate the other, and sometimes a rubber duck is just a rubber duck.

As you can see there are a whole lot of questions bouncing around inside of me at the moment, and very few solid answers to counter them, but I hope that in the next few weeks I will be able to use my sessions with both A. and Z. to look at them closer.

xx

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: "Draw, Don't Cut"  [..the slightly more creative version..]

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: “Draw, Don’t Cut”
[..the slightly more creative version..]

Being Safe vs. Feeling Safe – The Power Of The Past

Ever since my run-in with M. last week, I have been on extremely high alert. Like many people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder I am hyper vigilant at the best of times, but in the last week I have been a million times more nervous than usual, any sound I’m not expecting making me jump. From Monday when it happened until Wednesday night I didn’t sleep. Not as in I’ve barely slept a wink, but I literally didn’t sleep, at all. In fact, getting to A.’s place on the Wednesday afternoon was a real challenge as I was battling the symptoms of sleep deprivation, being confused, nauseas and very unsteady on my feet.

I used both my Wednesday and Friday session with A. to talk about what happened when I saw M. and how it’s really affected me quite badly. In the Wednesday session I was close to tears, just thinking about it, because I felt like any sense of security I had been able to create for myself had been totally and utterly shattered. My jitteriness was so bad that even the sound of A.’s voice made me jump more than once in session. [My relief upon realising it was A. and not someone else each time, on the other hand, was immense].

I have been trying really hard to calm myself, to tell myself that although I don’t feel safe, I am safe. Only it seems to make no difference whatsoever. My feelings out-power my intellect with frightening ease, in complete contrast to how I normally deal with any extreme emotions by rationalising them away. Also, one could argue that the reality of being safe holds very little, if any, value if you don’t feel safe.

Needless to say, my anxiety level has been on a steep upward curve every day since last Monday, doubling again and again the closer I got to my next session with Z.

Z. telephoned me on the morning of my session, just to reassure me that she would definitely be there to meet me at the reception, to let me know that I didn’t have to worry about having to walk through the building on my own. So, I picked up whatever fragments of courage I could find and set out. I had to stop several times on the way, because I was so anxious my legs didn’t seem to want to carry me. I kept looking nervously around, to see if he might be there.

And then it happened. Only fifty metres from the relative safety of the reception I spotted him. He was on the other side of the street, slightly behind me, accompanied by a woman, talking and laughing as if the world was a beautiful place to be. I stopped being the grown woman that I am in that instant and turned into 8-year-old me, hiding behind a tree as he walked past on the other side of the street. I went from Adult Me to Little S in seconds flat.

I hung back, watching him enter the building, not really knowing what to do. It was time to meet Z., but I just couldn’t go into the reception, in case he stopped to talk to someone there. So, I waited a while – I’m not sure how long – and then, on unsteady feet, made my way across the parking lot. As I cautiously approached the door, hoping to take a peek through the glass panes to make sure that M. had left the reception, a man came out through it, holding the door politely open for me. Ready or not, I had no choice but to enter.

I collapsed on one of the chairs immediately inside the door, bending forward, hiding my head in my hands, forcing myself to keep breathing. Z. came up to me right away; I guess she may have been sitting behind the receptionist desk, looking out for me – I wouldn’t know, because I never looked around when I entered.

I somehow managed to get it out that I knew M. was there, because I had seen him go in, and there was no way I could walk through the dining hall, even with Z. by my side. Z. thought for a moment and then told me to wait while she went back into the reception to ask another member of staff to open the fire exit for us, so we could enter the building that way; the only way you can get to the stairs leading to Z.’s room, without having to go through the dining hall.

I made it up to Z.’s room on shaky legs, and as soon as I was in there, I sat down on the chair. I didn’t do any of the things I usually do: put my backpack down, set my Rubik’s cube aside, take my shoes off. I just resumed the position I had had in the reception, head buried in my arms, bending over, sobbing violently without tears. It took me a good while before I was able to get back to myself enough to do those things, to bring myself back to where I was, and even then I left my shoes in such a position that I would be able to just step into them, should I need to flee.

I explained all of this to Z. That, even though she was there and I had made it to the room safely, I was ready to run, to jump through the window if need be. I just wasn’t at all able to catch hold of the fear or rein myself in. Throughout the session that feeling never left. At one point I could hear male voices in the hallway outside the room, and in panic realised that I might not be able to recognise his voice, as he would be speaking in English, and that might not at all sound like the very distinct way he spoke Swedish, with a strong Arabic accent.

That is something that has been playing in my mind almost on repeat during the last few days: the way he spoke. In particular, the way he used to say my name. He never used the short form of my name like everyone else, but would always call me by my full name, only his accent caused him to mispronounce it slightly.

It turned out to be a good session, all things considered. We spent time trying to explore the fear, and also talking about the circumstances surrounding M. coming to live with us. How we had a family meeting, talking about taking this badly psychologically damaged teenager in, and how, at first it had all been very exciting. He had three different foster families to choose from, but – much to our delight – decided on our family. He later said that the reason he chose our family over the other two was ‘because there were children’, and I couldn’t even begin to express the chills that sends down my spine thinking of it now, knowing what he went on to do.

We talked about changes that was made in my home prior to M. moving in: all toy guns, including water pistols, were banned – as M. was a refugee from the Lebanon and had seen war up close. The lock in the family bathroom was fixed, having never been in working order for as long as I could remember. I have a particularly vividly memory of my mother telling me that I was not to walk around in a towel after a bath or shower, as that wouldn’t be something he was used to, since it was something women from his culture didn’t do. It has stuck with me, that conversation with my mother, because even though I had never been someone who did that [always being very careful to cover up, never leaving my room without either being fully dressed or wearing pyjamas buttoned to the very top], I felt that there was some sort of indirect implication that were I to walk around in a state of semi-undress M. could not be held responsible for his actions. That it was somehow down to me to make sure nothing untoward happened.

We also talked a little about something else that I even now find difficult to deal with: the fact that while my parents have never outright said that I am lying about what happened with M., they have both categorically and repeatedly said that “it couldn’t have happened”. The reason they have given for this is that they were acutely aware, taking him in, that he was volatile and somewhat mentally unstable, and couldn’t necessarily be trusted as there was a violent and unpredictable side to him, and – according to them – they consequently made an agreement to ‘make sure that us children were never alone with him’. This – the idea that we were never left on our own with him – is of course highly implausible and falls to pieces at first look: my father was working full time and my mother, while being a stay-at-home mother at the time, certainly wasn’t ever someone who would be keeping her children in her sight at all times. We had always been allowed to roam free, and her own bipolar ups and downs would have had her sufficiently preoccupied to often not know where we were, or who we were with. And I know for a fact that I was regularly sent over to the guest house [where M. was staying] to fetch him. I know this because M. would often pretend that the intercom system wasn’t working when I rang to let him know dinner was ready, and my mother would tell me to not be so lazy and to just go over there and tell him myself..

Z. made a comment about this, about my parents deciding to take someone in who they apparently knew not to be safe, in spite of having three fairly young children at home. She wanted me to talk about how I felt about this, but, while I do have a lot of feelings about it, I simply didn’t feel quite able to, or – perhaps more accurately – didn’t feel quite ready – to express them.

I am not sure why my parents – who have no problem believing that their own son sexually abused me for more than twelve years – are so adamant that the abuse M. subjected me to could not have happened. Maybe the thought of having twice missed something like that is simply too much? Maybe the knowledge that he wasn’t safe, and the subsequent sense of guilt at not having protected me, stops them from being able to acknowledge – even to themselves – that it did happen? People often defend the hardest against the things that cause them the most pain, and I don’t think my parents are all that different in that respect. I have a few additional theories about their reasons for flatly denying what happened, all of them excruciatingly painful for all involved.. but, for now, I think I will keep the more probable ones to myself, as I don’t feel ready to deal with them just yet. I have on occasion talked to A. about it, but I feel that this blog is perhaps not the most appropriate place for me to explore it further. At least not for the time being.

After session, Z. walked me all the way through the building and across the parking lot outside, only saying goodbye when we got to the street, having first asked me how I was going to get home. It gave me the sense that it really mattered to her, all the things that have happened to me, all the fear I am carrying with me.

And that felt very special to me; very different to anything I have experienced before.

xx

Sharp eyed readers will have noticed that I have made no commented in this post as to whether or not the person I met really is M., or just someone who looks like him. The reason for this is that in so many ways it doesn’t matter whether it is really him or not. In my head it is him, and that’s what I am reacting to, so that’s what I have chosen to write about: my experience of what is going on. Whether the threat is real or not, the fear certainly is..

Encased In Ice Cold Fear, Trapped In Panic Mode – Upon Seeing A Ghost

I am feeling a little worried that this blog is becoming somewhat scattered, that there isn’t much of a red thread running through it anymore, and that it might be difficult to follow what’s actually going on with me, but sometimes, well, I sit down, fully intending to write an update on what I wrote about in the previous post, and it just feels like the moment has passed, and there are other – more pressing – things I feel a need to write about. Tonight is one of those times. There are two main things I feel I want to write about, so I think I will write two separate entries, to give you guys a chance to rest your eyes, hearts and souls a little in between sittings..

This Monday I went to my session with Z. as I usually do; a little lost in thought, trying to get into The Zone. The room I see Z. in is situated in a building which houses an entirely different kind of project, which is nothing to do with the counselling I am doing. In order to get to Z.’s room I have to walk through first a tiny reception area and then what seems to be some sort of dining hall. There are usually a fair few people in there when I arrive for my session and I generally just walk straight through it, not really paying attention to who is there. This time ended up being very different.

Sitting at one of the tables, right next to the door I needed to go through, was a person who was an absolute dead ringer for M., one of the people I was abused by. NOT the way he looked back then, but the way he would look now: older, heavier, but with those same eyes, the same way of looking at me..

I’m not really sure how to explain what happened, but it was as if my body reacted instantly to this person, before my brain had even had time to work out the reason for the reaction. I have prosopagnosia, a condition that is a little bit like being dyslexic, but with faces instead of letters; my brain simply doesn’t store the memory of peoples’ faces, and it is very, very rare for me to recognise people. Even people I know well, like my sisters, I’m unable to picture, when I’m not with them. But, somehow, with this person, my body reacted instantaneously, before I had even clocked what [who] my eyes were seeing.

All heat seemed to drain from my body at once, I felt ice cold, my heart was beating so hard it was painful, my legs went spaghettiose. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and that I actually didn’t want to breathe. But somehow I managed to keep walking.

I made it to the stairs leading to the waiting room, and bumped into Z. who was coming down them. I could hear her greet me, and I know I said something back, ‘though I have no idea at all what I said. All I remember was that I thought my knees were going to buckle under me, and focusing ALL my energy on this tea cup Z. happened to be holding, because that was the only thing that seemed to not be spinning, that seemed real, safe. [Could write a whole essay on why it was the tea cup, rather than Z. herself, that seemed real and safe, but it seems of secondary importance right now.]

I got to the top of the stairs and into the waiting room and collapsed on one of the chairs, shaking from head to toe. My hands were trembling completely out of control. It is something that happens to me in moments of extreme anxiety or fear, and I tend to hide my hands so that no one will see it.

By the time I got into Z.’s consulting room I was in what I could only describe as a state of shock, unable to speak. I’m not sure how long for, it might not have been very long in real time, but it felt like an eternity. I felt like all my words were stuck in my throat, blocked by this horrible, unmeltable, icy lump of fear.

Z. at first assumed that it was an air freshener that had triggered this reaction in me, as in a previous session I had reacted to it, as it somehow reminded me of another, similar, smell that almost inevitably sets off a chain of flashbacks, so she went to open the window a little wider. I managed to let her know that that wasn’t it. I’m not sure if I actually told her, or if she asked and I just shook my head.

Eventually I was able to explain to Z. what had happened, who I thought I had seen. Who I felt sure I had seen.

It was such a strange sensation, all these extremely intense feelings, very similar to when I am having flashbacks, only I wasn’t in a flashback. I was reacting to something real. To someone real.

I tried to calm myself down, tried to tell myself that no matter how much this person looked like M., the odds that it was really him was very, very small, infinitesimal, really. But, somehow that just didn’t matter. I experienced a complete split between intellect and emotion, an absolute refusal to believe that it was just someone who looked like him: every cell in my body was telling me that it was him, and no amount of rationalisation or probability calculation could change that.

It was as if every single incident of abuse that he had ever subjected me to in the year or so he was living with us were washing over me all at once, like an enormous tidal wave, sweeping all rational thought from my mind, leaving me completely and utterly encased in ice cold fear, trapped in panic mode. I managed to tell Z. this; that I felt terrified, like the abuse could start over at any second, because in my mind M. was sitting downstairs, and he was always able to find a way to play his cruel games. It didn’t matter that there were lots of people in the building, or that Z. was in the room with me. He could do whatever he wanted, absolutely whenever he wanted to back then, and to me this was still true now. Z. tried to reassure me that no one could hurt me, that I was safe, and I could hear 8-year-old Little S ask “Am I?” in a tone drenched in doubt, so certain in the knowledge that there is nowhere in the entire world I am safe from him, as long as he is still alive.

I genuinely cannot remember feeling so scared or so panicked ever in my life, not since the abuse was actually happening. And that feeling hasn’t subsided. I feel like I am stuck in this horrendous place where my usual, reasoned, realistic way of dealing with things is completely helpless to shield me from my own feelings. I am trying my best to tell myself that it can’t have been him. And at the same time, in my head, it was. There was something about the way my body just reacted to seeing this person, that just makes it impossible for me to accept that it wasn’t.

I told Z. that I was scared of when I would have to leave that room and go downstairs again, even though on the way out I don’t have to go through the dining hall. Z. very gently offered to come with me, so I wouldn’t have to go on my own, in fact she offered more than once, but I had already switched into my ‘Let No One In, Trust No One’-mode, telling her “I’ll be OK. I’m always OK”. To which Z. answered that I certainly had come through a hell of a lot, but she also reminded me that there was no need for me to ‘Be OK’ in session or with her.

I did leave on my own. I’m not sure how. All I know is that as soon as I was out of the building and across the street, tears were streaming down my face and I had to stop twice to be sick before I even got to the bus stop.

I feel so frightened now. And I am scared about going to my next session. I want to go to it, but what if he is there again? I don’t know if I can cope with it. In many ways it doesn’t even really matter whether or not it really is him: the fear he instilled in me back then has returned with a vengeance, regardless of which it is.

I wrote Z. an email earlier this evening, asking could she meet me downstairs in the reception area next session, because it might help me feel a little less frightened if I know I won’t have to walk through the dining hall on my own. It is very unusual for me to ask for help. I am so used to always relying on myself to find ways of dealing with everything on my own, no matter how hard. But I was thinking about what Z. said in session, that there was no need for me to ‘Be OK’, and decided that it was better to ask than to push myself through more fear and anxiety than what is actually necessary.

 

I am sorry that this ended up being such a long post. I suppose there was a lot I needed to get out of my head.

 

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

Trauma Focused Counselling, Psychoanalytic Therapy & Bridging The Gap

By now I have had nine sessions with Z. Only, it’s turned out very different to what I had thought it would be. Two sessions ago Z. said that she felt concerned about us doing deep trauma-focused work, said that she wasn’t sure it would ultimately be to my benefit if we started unpacking memories that would undoubtedly cause a lot of pain, when we have so very few sessions together and might not have enough time to get any closure. She also said that she was unsure if we should do all sixteen sessions as planned, or if we should perhaps instead spend a few sessions thinking about how the work we have been doing so far could be brought back into A.’s consulting room. Or, Z. added, maybe what we need to do is look at sorting out a referral to someone else, someone who specialises in trauma-treatment, but who – unlike herself – could offer long-term therapy?

All this came as a bit of a shock to me, because, after all, Z. had been handed my referral and would have known the extent of trauma I have suffered, and she also knew the premises we were working on from the outset: sixteen sessions, no more, no less, unless I decided to cut counselling short. Of course, intellectually I can appreciate the concerns voiced by Z., but it was still a tough one to take in. Also – perhaps more importantly – I know myself fairly well, and I could see right away that no matter how much intellectual sense this proposal made, it would only be a matter of time before those deep seated, fear infused questions started popping up in my head and heart: Was that really the reason why Z. wanted to cut counselling short? Maybe this was just what she was saying, because she didn’t want to tell me that I had once again become ‘too much’? What if the real reason was that the stuff I had shared already was more than she could cope with? Needless to say my internal Here-We-Go-Again alarm bells were going off like crazy.

Of course, the rational part of me knows that it is unlikely that Z. would lie to me, or that – given that working with trauma is What She Does – the bits and pieces of trauma I had let her in on would be too much to cope with, but as we have seen time and time again, intellectual understanding and emotional response rarely go neatly hand in hand in perfect harmony. As I said to Z.; in many ways it doesn’t even matter what the real reasons for not doing the full sixteen sessions actually are: ultimately it will almost certainly become cemented in my mind as further proof that I’m ‘too much’. Or, even, that I’m not really worth the hard work that is involved, because, after all – everyone else gets their sixteen sessions, and they’re all trauma clients, too. So, this must be something specific to me.

I told Z. that, although I’m nowhere near as invested in my relationship with her as I am in my relationship with A. [yet], an experienced rejection of this kind would still bring all these fears to the surface in a way that I don’t think would be particularly helpful for me, as it would only serve to reinforce the idea that no one can truly cope with me. That no one wants to hear my story.

I feel quite pleased with myself that I managed to share these thoughts with Z., that I didn’t do what I would have done a few years ago: bury all feelings as deeply as I possibly could, right at the very edge of my conscious mind, and just accept Z.’s suggestion to end counselling early – with a bright smile plastered across my face to hide the invisible tears, to boot. I’m glad that I instead decided to ‘fight back’.  [Especially as Z. told me in today’s session that we have another seven to go, which means we will be doing the full course.]

The two sessions since Z. suggested stopping short we have spent, in part, at least, exploring what this proposition of Z.’s has done to me and how it has made me feel about Z. I’ve also explained that I am not looking to find a new therapist; I think it is crucial that I somehow find a way to bring the work I have started with Z. back to my sessions with A., both to allow me an opportunity to discover that I can overcome my fear of breaking people [and perhaps even of breaking myself], and for A. to rise to the challenge and earn my trust back, so that I dare once more take a chance and share some of the truly awful things that happened to me. To, in a sense, come full circle.

A.’s and my story began a little over four and a half years ago. It took me a good year of testing A. in a million different ways to make sure that she was for real before I even considered talking about anything much at all. After that another two years were spent slowly slowly building a genuine relationship. I began trusting her, tried to open up even when I was terrified to do so. And then in year five of therapy – boom – something went quite badly wrong. Both A. and I hit a wall, full speed, from opposite sides, and whatever trust there was got seriously dented as a result. And that’s where we are at now: we are both still in recovery mode.

What I would like to add to our story is a final phase where I get to experience that mutual trust can be rebuilt. Both that I can start trusting A. to ‘hold’ me again, to feel safe with her, to know that she can cope hearing about the things that happened to me, but also that she can regain her trust in me. It would be unrealistic and unfair to suggest that the breakdown and subsequent dent in trust was experienced only at my end; I can absolutely see that the act of nearly killing myself earlier this year, put a dent in A.’s trust in me, too.

This is the main reason why I don’t want to look for another long-term therapist, even if she happened to be specialised in trauma-focused work. I feel that the positive corrective emotional experience needs to happen in my relationship with A. The circle needs to be completed in a single relationship.

I do feel that the work I have been doing with Z. – both the trauma work and the work we have been doing in the last two sessions – has been helpful to me. It has made me try to, ever so gently, bring some of the feelings around the abuse into my sessions with A., to lower my guard that little bit more, and it has also helped me be a lot more direct in the way I communicate with A. about our relationship. I do a lot less tiptoeing around. I still feel that I want to complete all sixteen sessions with Z., because I think the time left could be well spent building bridges. I also think it’s been quite healthy for A. to see how I have responded to a very different type of therapist/counsellor, and I think it has made her reflect on the way she works with me, and what may or may not be useful in our work. I don’t mean that this has been a forced response to a threat of If you don’t do things MY way, I’ll find another therapist, because I don’t feel I have issued such a threat – the decision to do trauma-focused work outside of therapy was made before A. and I hit that wall, had been discussed in my sessions with A. – but that it’s happened naturally, on a genuine feeling level.

There is still a long way to go, for both of us, but I think we will get there in the end.

xx

PS. Following my last two posts I have (a bit surprisingly) had more than one email asking if Z.’s real name is Zoe Xxxxxxx, so I thought I’d state once and for all that NO, it isn’t. Z.’s name doesn’t even begin with Z, I just randomly picked it because her letter was already in use. As I’ve said before, I do always take as much care as I possibly can to mask other people’s real identity, and this includes the identities of my counsellors and psychotherapists. :)

New Year, New Hopes – A Tiny Update

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Don’t worry, I’ve not gone crazy.. At least not in the traditional sense..
Tonight at sun down is the Jewish new year, Rosh HaShanah, and I have to admit that I am kind of excited about it. I know that a date is just a date, really, and it’s what we do with each day that matters, but, there is still something about starting anew that always makes me feel positive and hopeful. It’s that delicious feeling of opening up a brand new journal, 300 buttery white pages, there for me to fill. I kind of know that as much as I’ll try to use only my very neatest handwriting, sooner or later I will fall back into old habits, switching to my sloppiest, most illegible, journal writing style, almost without noticing. But, until I do – man, does it feel good!

So, what am I hoping for in the new year?

Motherhood. Always at the very top of my wish list. Comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. But other than that? Well, a little bit of relief from the drama of the last few months would be nice. I remember my youngest sister concluding a number of years ago that I always have a serious dip in September, but knowing what the last few months have been like, I’d like to think that this time the dip came early, and hopefully I am on my way back up now.

I hope that creativity will flow. Both in terms of writing, and in terms of artistic endeavours, whether it be painting, drawing, carving or whatever other quirky ideas I may come up with. My latest project, as you can see above, is hand painting canvas shoes. Hopefully this will continue to offer me an alternative way to express myself and provide a safe haven to go to, a place where I can disconnect, if only for a moment, from mundane day-to-day stresses.

I hope that my therapy and my relationship with A. will continue to both challenge me and bring deeper understanding, and that I will find the courage to carry on expressing my feelings. I hope that the work I am doing with Z. will help prove to myself that I can do it [talk about the abuse without breaking either myself or the person who is listening to me], and that it will ultimately lead to a decrease in the amount of flashbacks I experience on a daily basis.

Stepping away from purely therapeutic/professional relationships, I also feel a lot more ready to be in a romantic relationship with someone. I have been single ever since Dev and I separated after five years together. That is now almost five years ago, and I have to admit that in those years, I have always felt ridiculously comfortable with my single status. A. has more than once hinted at the possibility of me being somewhat fearful of entering into a new intimate relationship, but I genuinely don’t feel that’s the case. I mean, yes, there are absolutely things that frighten me about letting another person in, but not on a level where it would stop me from forming a relationship with someone; I’ve just felt very strongly that I needed this time to deal with my own issues, to have emotional time and space to explore who I am, to get to know myself better. I still don’t feel particularly desperate to find someone, nor do I feel burdened by loneliness; it simply just feels like it would be nice to have someone to share my life with, to settle down. To Set This Circus Down, to use a McGraw-ism. I don’t think I’m about to [re-]join a dating site or start going on the prowl or anything like that, it’s not really my style. I would love it if Prince or Princess Charming found their way into my life, but I feel no need to go on a hunt to find my perfect match today [or even tomorrow]. Rather than an intense hunger for breaking free of singlehood, I suppose you could say that I have more of a relaxed ‘if it happens, it happens’ attitude towards it. But, as I said earlier, it would be nice if it did happen.

Anyway, I think I’ll end my ‘update lite’ here, and – whether you are Jewish or not – I would like to wish you all a very good and sweet year to come.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

Have a marvellous 5774!

Much love,

xx

(For Lillsessan..)

Set This Circus Down © 2000 Bill Luther and Josh Kear

The Beginning Of A Parallel Journey

My most beloved transitional object

My most beloved transitional object

 

You may remember that a few posts ago I wrote about deciding to go ahead and do some short term specialised trauma-focused counselling, parallel to the psychoanalytic therapy I am already doing with A.

I set out on this journey four weeks ago and it’s been quite a ride thus far, but before I begin writing about said journey, let me introduce you to a new character: Z., my counsellor. I have to admit that when I met her the first time I wasn’t entirely sure about her. My impression was mostly positive, and I absolutely felt that she was someone I could work with, but there was also a little bit of fear that she might not be quite strong enough to resist my habit of luring therapists and counsellors alike down side paths and blind alleys. What I mean by that is that, in the past, back when therapy was something I was doing because someone else wanted me to do it [parents, doctors, psychiatrists], I was very very good at finding ways of showing up for session each week, skilfully avoiding doing any actual therapy.

What I did was to go in and talk about something entirely unrelated [I spent an entire year talking about ice-hockey and the LA Lakers with my first therapist], then dazzling them by intellectually linking whatever I had decided to talk about with psychotherapeutic theory. I realise, of course, that this was something I did because I simply wasn’t ready to engage in therapy, so in one way this behaviour is hardly surprising. But, at the same time, there was always a part of me that was deeply disappointed that none of my first three therapists ever pulled me up on my fairly obvious attempts at outsmarting them, and that they were instead, session after session, drawn into complex discussions about attachment theory, projective identification etc etc. I think what I was really craving was a therapist who would step into that pseudo-parental role, different to my own parents, steering a clear path in showing me that they were more interested in me than in my ability to spin intricate and dazzling webs.

It wasn’t until many many years later in my very first session with D. that a counsellor finally told me that ‘Although your knowledge is very impressive, it’s not why we’re here.’ Felt like hitting a brick wall at a hundred miles an hour and then being told that it’s pretty silly to go running at a wall, when there was a perfectly good opportunity here to learn to use the ladder that was leaning against said wall. I’m not saying that D. was necessarily the first counsellor or therapist to see through this game I was playing, or to understand the reasons for why I was playing it, but she was the first person to properly make me feel that she understood that I was absolutely terrified and that rather than allowing me to carry on defending against this fear by using intellectualisation she cared enough about me to want to help me step onto the ladder and do something different. There was no pressure to make it to the top of the wall in the time we had, but instead there was a lot of focus on acknowledging the achievement of making it onto the first step. Any subsequent steps would be a bonus.

So, knowing that I was about to begin a completely new type of counselling with Z., one which focused solely on the sexual abuse I suffered, one where talking about my parents, or being adopted, or the million other things that are part of my life and who I am, would play very little part, I was completely and utterly petrified. Thus, meeting Z. for the first time was a big deal. Naturally, meeting a counsellor or therapist always is, but I was very aware of the need to find a counsellor who wouldn’t gobble up deliciously smoked red herrings thrown their way, and so there was a lot on the line in that first meeting.

Coming out of that meeting, my general impression of Z. was – as I said earlier – mainly positive, there was still a part of me that felt concerned that her statement that she ‘wouldn’t push me to go somewhere I didn’t want to go’, might potentially indicate that she was someone who, if I wanted to, I could easily string along in an attempt to not only avoid having to go to painful places, but to avoid challenging myself to move forward at all. Like I said to my sisters after the first session: ‘Z. is someone I would have had for lunch 10 years ago’.

But the four and a half years of doing therapy with A., along with the counselling I did with D. prior to that, has made me realise how much there is to gain from doing my utmost to stop myself from going down that route. To, in a sense, stay on that ladder and keep climbing it. So, I knew that even if I was somewhat unsure of Z., I knew that I was different, as were my reasons for going into this counselling. Of course, as much as I try to consciously stop myself from hopping off the ladder, there may still be a fair amount of unconscious [or subconscious, if you’re so inclined] motivation for leading myself astray, hence, needing to feel sure that Z. would be able to spot this when I can’t.

In my second meeting with Z., many of my initial fears were laid to rest. She came to the second session with a very clear view of what she would like us to work on and helped guide me through it. This is very new to me; I’m used to doing psychoanalytic therapy, where I’m pretty much always in the driver’s seat, and it’s a real challenge to now, suddenly, let someone else co-pilot. There were some things Z. had wanted to do in the second session, which she soon realised weren’t quite right for me, as they were things I had already worked out and implemented for myself, and she swiftly adapted to this, changing course to suit my trajectory. This lead to something I would never in a million years have thought possible: already in session three I took a plunge and showed her a drawing of one of the abuse situations and talked about it. It was scary as anything, but was much helped by discussing – prior to me handing the drawing over to Z. – what I wanted her to do with it so as to not have a repeat of that session with A. where I interpreted her immediate return of a drawing as a sign that she couldn’t quite bear looking at the reality of the abuse. Instead, this time, we made the agreement that Z. would hold on to my drawing until I indicated that I would like to have it back. Z. also showed some initiative when she felt I was getting into my normal way of racing ahead through a story, as though I’m talking about someone else, with complete emotional disconnect, by stopping me for a while and asking me to reconnect and to tell her what talking about this made me feel. This is very new to me. Naturally, A. is also very interested in what I’m feeling, and often tags a ‘Can you say more?’ [one of my absolute favourite questions] or ‘Can you unpack that?’ onto something I have said, in order to coax more out of me. But, I’m not used to being actually stopped in order to reconnect several times during a session.

I had brought my beloved Doth with me to session. Doth, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her, is a porcelain doll I’ve had since I was a child. She was made by my best friend’s mother and she was the only person who knew about the abuse while it was going on; I used to sit with Doth, whisper in her ear the things my brother and M. made me do. So, needless to say, she is very very precious to me, and as childish as it may seem, I thought having Doth with me in session might make it easier for me to talk about the abuse, because, in a way, she has already heard it all. I felt regressing to that childhood ritual of talking to Doth about the awful things that were happening might help me overcome my fear of talking about the abuse for fear of breaking the listener.

I think this parallel work with A. and Z. has the potential to be a very good thing. I had worried that I might be spreading myself too thin, or that it would become too confusing working with two people at the same time, but for now it seems to work quite well. Also, the work I am doing with Z. is very short term, only sixteen sessions in all, and is by its very nature a lot more intense than the therapy I’m doing with A., and I am hoping to use my sessions with A. to ensure that I remain safe while I’m doing this very painful work. I have already noticed that I am again having more flashbacks than the norm, but this is something I had expected. As I told a friend of mine: ‘Doing this was always going to be a totally rubbish time’, but I am hopeful that it will ultimately help reduce the amount of flashbacks I have, and also, that it will help me go further with A.

Sixteen sessions, even if structured, is not a lot of time, especially given that I suffered abuse from more than one person, and that the abuse went on for as long as it did, so I am hoping that doing this with Z. will open the door to carrying on talking about the abuse with A. once counselling comes to an end, much in the same way that the counselling with D. set me up for actively trying to avoid throwing red herrings at A., and subsequently, Z.

 

In other words: onwards and upwards, one rung at the time.

 

Be kind to your Selves,

xx