I Survived A Therapy Break

We’ve been on a break, my therapist and I. A Pesach / Easter / training combo break. Leading up to the break I was very aware of Little S. inside having a lot of feelings about P. going away. This, even though, I – or should I write we..? – were also going to be away for almost the entire break. There was an increased and very distinct need for emailing and texting P. to make sure that she was Real.

I think that what Little S. means by someone being Real is a combination of them not forgetting her when she’s not with them and for them to not abandon her when things get rough. But, at times it is also a way to express genuine fear that maybe the relationship with the other person is too good to be true, it is asking for reassurance; are you Real, or just a figment of my imagination, because it seems so unbelievable to me to have someone who is really there for me when I need them.

A break always brings out a lot of abandonment issues, especially for the Little S. part in me. From Adult Me’s vantage point this makes perfect sense, I understand why this happens; so many people in my life haven’t been there when I’ve needed them the most, so, naturally, when someone as important to me as P. declares that she’s going to be away, it is bound to trigger all manner of emotional echoes inside me. But, as much as Adult Me can see this, it doesn’t actually make it any easier for Little S. to deal with the anxiety and sadness that these separations inevitably bring to surface. To Little S. the worry that P. might be going on a break because she has been too much for her is very real, as is the fear that P. might – during the break – realise that she prefers not to have to deal with her ups and downs, her neediness, her constant need for reassurance.. Before a break the tension inside Little S. will keep building, until she is convinced that a) there is no way she can survive this break and b) that, should she through some form of miracle survive, there is no way that P. will ever choose to return.

A few years ago, back when I was still seeing A., I would never ever talk about any of this directly with her before a break. I would suffer in silence, and maybe – very maybe – mention it after the break was over, although generally in a very brief glossing over kind of fashion. Before a break, I would just feel the anxiety mounting, bring me closer and closer to breaking point, but I would not really acknowledge just how difficult breaks are for me. This, of course, lead to breaks being absolutely catastrophic in my mind, and it was extremely rare that I would not need to be working with the crisis resolution team during them.

In the first year or so of seeing P. I slowly and very gradually became better at talking around the subject of breaks, slightly dipping my toes in it, so to speak. I would talk about it in the way Adult Me sees it, intellectualising it, rather than actually feeling it. In part this was because I didn’t really know how else to approach it; intellectualising difficult feelings, analysing why they are triggered, rather than actually feeling the feelings, is how I have got through an awful lot of difficult times; it is a well beaten path. But, as I have been working more and more closely with P. to try to notice that there are feelings stirring inside, and to identify what those feelings are, I can now fairly often allow myself to stay with them.

The other part of why – back in the early days – I didn’t really talk about the feelings was that many of those feelings [particularly the ones to do with abandonment and separation, and the shame of needing someone else] belonged more to Little S. than to Adult Me, and Little S. hadn’t yet found her voice. Or rather, I hadn’t yet found a way to allow Little S. to express herself directly in our therapy. But, eventually we cracked it; first by letting Little S. email and text P. between sessions and then by Little S. speaking directly to P. in sessions [as opposed to through Adult Me]. It’s been a long journey, but I do feel that Little S. is now reasonably able to take part in therapy when she wants or needs to.

So, this time around, on top of the many emails and texts asking P. if she is Real, she was also able to not only talk about her feelings prior to the break, but she was able to experience them while she was talking about them. And that felt like a very big step forward.

The break in itself actually went quite well this time. Of course we all missed seeing P., and there were a few times when either Little S., bob, or Adult Me needed to email P., but there wasn’t quite as much anxiety to deal with as there might have been, had we not been able to experience and explore some of the feelings before the break, had P. not helped me make space for these feelings to be not only shared, but also heard. P. doesn’t ever make me talk about difficult feelings, but she does actively encourage me to try – and we set the pace together. She makes it very clear to me that it is safe to allow feelings out, that she wants to hear about them, whether it be in session or in an email, a text or in a drawing. And, possibly most importantly – especially to Little S. – she reassures her that she will be able to bear those feelings, that they won’t be too much, and they won’t result in P. no longer wanting to see her. That feeling and talking and talking about feelings is very much welcomed and valued in our relationship. Even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.

Another thing that P. and I do to help Little S. manage during breaks and particularly difficult times, is to let one of P.’s ‘little friends’ – a soap stone hippo called Ringo [*not his real name, gotta protect his privacy!] – stay with me. I will also leave something of mine with P. to further strengthen the sense of connection between us during the break. As Little S. would say: “Something to help you ‘merember’ me, in case you start to forget.” It may sound like a childish thing to do, this exchanging of personal artefacts, but, Little S. inside is just that – she’s little – she may live inside the body of an adult, but she still finds comfort in having something physical to hold on to help her connect with P. So, no matter how silly it may seem to outsiders, taking Ringo with me everywhere I go, it makes all the difference in the world to Little S. And that’s worth a lot!

So, when you’re facing a break in your therapy, here is my advice to you: listen to what all of you need to make that break as bearable as possible. Don’t allow your Adult Self to stop your Little from getting what they need to manage it. To the best of your ability, talk about the fears and worries that all of the different parts of you carry about this break. Write it in a letter if it is too hard to say it out loud, if the fear of rejection gets too much. And if needed: ask if Ringo can come stay with you. And, if asking for a Ringo to stay with you feels too much; start small. I was given this tip by one of my readers many years ago, and at first, having something personal of P.’s felt way too overwhelming for me, so we started by my borrowing a random pen of hers that I could use to write in my journal with. And a little note from P. to help reassure me that she wouldn’t forget me and that she would be back.

But now that I have worked my way up to having Ringo stay with me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And neither would my sisters’ kids!

Be good to your Selfs.

xx

IMG_3885

A drawing Little S. made last night to show how happy bob, she and Adult Me feels that P. is finally back

 

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Feeling Bad & Being Bad – Allowing ALL of Your Selfs into Therapy

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“And, what if – after everything that I’ve been through – something’s gone wrong inside me? What if I’m becoming bad..?”
 “I want you to listen very carefully: You’re not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to. You understand? Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters – we’ve all got both light and dark inside of us.”

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The above is a transcript from Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix – film, not book – an exchange between Harry and his godfather, but – Death Eaters aside – this could just as easily have been a dialogue between Little S. and P. It’s a conversation they have had many, many times, and one – I suspect – that they will continue to have many more times.

The concept of somehow being bad because of what has happened to us is a common one among people who have suffered sexual abuse. The sense that our experiences in childhood has somehow tainted us, marked us for life, is something I think many can relate to. And even though the adult part of us may well be able to recognise that this is not the case, for our inner child this is a stain that feels all but impossible to remove. It has sunk so deep into the grain of what we were made of, that removing it feels as if it would mean removing a part of who we are. This is especially true if the abuse began when the we were very young, before we have had a chance to form a strong sense of our Selfs.

Little S. struggles greatly with being able to understand that feeling bad and being bad are not the same thing. She finds it almost impossible to distinguish between the two. And that makes perfect sense; because what was happening to her made her feel terribly bad inside, at the same time as one of the abusers made it his favourite pastime to reinforce again and again and again that the reason why he was doing what he was doing to her was precisely because she was bad, the two concepts got mixed up. So, ‘feeling bad’ became ‘being bad’. And, between the abuse and being fed the black and white fairytales that most children are fed, where bad people do only bad things and good people do only good things, yet another truth was formed: if you do something bad, you must be a bad person. Even the dialogue above goes on to state that “What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” It’s a lovely sentiment, on the surface – our actions define who we are, we can choose to be good rather than bad. But, – and it is rather a big but – for a child in an abuse situation, choices are limited, and more often than not we had to do things which we perceived as being bad [playing along, saying the things the abusers wanted to hear, we may even have been taught to act ‘provocatively’ by the abuser and so on..] all of which even further instilled in us that we were indeed bad. We didn’t just feel bad about what was happening or about the choices we were forced to make, we were bad. And because we were bad, we deserved the bad things that were happening to us. After all, the villain of the fairytale must inevitably be punished; the bad guy banished, put in prison or even killed..

As I am writing this I am aware of Adult Me wanting to step in, to protest, to tell Little S. that she is not the villain, she is not to blame. That those choices weren’t really choices at all, and those actions [the ‘playing along’, the ‘saying the right things’..] were extraordinarily complex survival skills dressed as what looked like bad choices. And that is a very good sign of health on Adult Me’s part, both the wanting to step in to protect Little S. from those misconceptions, and the ability to see them for what they are – but, Little S. needs therapy, too – Little S. especially needs therapy – she needs to be allowed to explain what the world looks and feels like to her, she needs the space to share her truth and to have that truth heard and accepted. So, for now, Adult Me will need to take half a step back.

And that can be a real struggle in therapy. I’ve written previously about this difficulty, how in my work with P. we found that the way to allow Little S. to speak, without Adult Me interfering or even censoring, was not found inside of the fifty minute hour, but in emails and drawings between the sessions. And even that didn’t happen overnight. It took conscious effort on behalf of Adult Me to stop herself from editing Little S.’s communication with P. And that is a hard, hard, thing to do. But, it has finally given Little S. a voice of her own. And, recently – with a lot of hard work – Little S. has even been able to have her very own fifty minute hours with P.

P. and I work a lot on trying to understand what feelings, thoughts and beliefs belong to which parts, and also to recognise that they are all valid. [Not necessarily true, but absolutely valid]. The different parts agree wholeheartedly on some things and disagree wildly on others, and for me, it has been incredibly helpful to stop and listen to what the different parts have to say.

When Little S. writes emails, she does so using childish phrases that Adult Me would never use, and in session she speaks with the kind of language and grammar and even tone of voice that a child of four or seven or nine would – even when she writes by hand, she does so in her own writing. It’s not about acting – I’m not pretending to be a child again – I am just temporarily holding back the other parts, I am turning down the background noise, so that Little S.’s voice can be better heard. And it is so so helpful. Not just to Little S., but to all the different parts of my internal system. It helps us notice where different parts struggle, and it helps us understand where the different internal conflicts take place. And it feels good to know that each part can exist both in its own right, and as part of the whole system; that the whole is simultaneously both exactly the sum of its parts, and so so much more.

I still struggle with this – it is simply not an easy job, understanding oneself and ones inner workings – and it has helped enormously having P. actively encourage all the different parts to speak up. This is one of the things that makes therapy so great: you’re not doing it on your own, there is a second heart and soul in there with you.

I know that working in this way – understanding the whole as being made up of many different parts – is not for everyone – and I also recognise that I am only at the very beginning of this journey myself; I am in no way an expert in the field, but, I would recommend anyone to give it a go. Maybe sit down and allow your Little to write a letter – about anything [it doesn’t have to be about something particularly difficult or painful] – in his or her own words, without the self-consciousness of your Adult Self holding them back.

Whether or not you choose to bring what you write to session, I think that you will discover both how difficult it can be to separate one part of yourself from another – and just how much your Little has to say, perhaps even things that he or she may not have been able to say before. And that has got to be worth quite a lot, don’t you think?

Do be kind to your Selfs.

All the very best,

xx

The Harry Potter and Sirius scene

Every Part Of You Needs Therapy : Baby S.’s Story

impossible shapes

“Looking Back At My Younger Self” – An ‘impossible’ drawing I did, inspired by Reuterswärd, Escher and Penrose

Whenever I think about who I am, I always reach the conclusion that there is more than one answer to that question. I have written about the concept of every person having different parts to them before [the baby self, the child self, the inner teenager, the adult etc], but I have been wanting to write more about each individual part for a while now, so that is what I am planning to do in the next few posts. [Emphasis on planning here – no promises, plans sometimes don’t pan out]. I have no idea how interesting this will be to anyone else, but as it is something P. and I do a lot of in our therapy [exploring, defining, trying to understand the different parts and how they work – and sometimes don’t work – together in my internal system], I know that it will be a useful exercise for me. So, I am going to be a selfish blogger for a little while. And I use the word ‘selfish’ here in the purely positive sense of allowing myself and my needs to come first. That said, I know from the emails I have been receiving from you over the years, that many of you share similar stories to mine, and I hope that you, too, will get something from this exercise – maybe even take a little time to think about your own internal system?

I am going to start with Baby S., because that is where the person I am now begun. Baby S. is simultaneously the very oldest and the very youngest part of me. She is the part of me who was there from the beginning, the tiny pre-verbal part of myself. She is the one who was around when I was living at the Indian orphanage in the first seven months of my life, she is the one who first experienced being abandoned, first experienced loss. When this happened, I don’t know, because I don’t know if I was born at the orphanage or if I was brought there. And if I wasn’t born at the orphanage, then I don’t know whether a stranger found me somewhere on the streets of Calcutta and handed me in, or if my birth parent made the decision to take me there themselves, because it was what they believed would be best for me. In fact, I don’t even know if my separation from my birth parents was forced upon them or if it was a choice they made. All I know is that at a very early age I experienced the extreme trauma of being abandoned. 

Baby S. is also the part of me who for the first seven months of my life experienced a serious lack of human-to-human [or rather adult-to-child] contact and care. This I do know for a fact. I know this, not from having a conscious memory of this lack of close contact, but because I have been back to the orphanage I came from, and I have seen the little metal cots shared between two or three babies [hence correcting myself earlier; there was most certainly human-to-human contact, but not adequate adult-to-child care]. This inadequacy was not because I came from a particularly bad orphanage, it is simply down to the fact that I come from an exceptionally busy and over-crowded one. [Actually, scratch ‘exceptionally‘ – it is probably no more busy or over-crowded than any given orphanage in India]. The nuns working at this orphanage no doubt tirelessly do so because they care very deeply about all these abandoned babies and children, and are passionately wanting to do what they can to provide for their tiny little charges, but there are simply not enough of them going around, and – sadly – their job becomes never ending rounds of nappy changes and bottle feeds – conveyor belt style – to ensure that no child is missed. So, in spite of these heroic efforts, precious little time is spent with each individual child, and the opportunity to form any kind of meaningful attachment is virtually nil. 
I was ten years old when I went back to visits the orphanage I came from, and even as a child of that age I was acutely aware of the Baby S.-part inside, and I didn’t need an adult to explain to me how lonely and frightening it must have been for me as a baby to be in that environment. It is hot, crowded and noisy, with little colour or comfort. No toys, no safety blankets, no dummies [that’s British for pacifiers], no cuddly teddy bears.. Bleak, bare and loud, with hardly any Big People to care for you; a very sad environment for anyone to be in, no matter what the age. Needless to say, visiting that orphanage had a big impact on me, and it has played a huge part in why I have always been so much more interested in understanding the effects of starting out in an environment like that – void of significant caregivers to form attachments to – than wanting to find my birth parents. 

Anyone who has been adopted will be more than familiar with Everyone Else’s two compulsive-intrusive questions: “Do you know who your real parents are?” and “Would you like to find your real parents?” My answer is invariably: “Of course I know who my real parents are – I grew up with them, and, no, I’m not hugely interested in finding my birth parents.” An answer, which is more often than not, met with disappointment. It is as if, being adopted, one ought to have a strong desire to trace one’s biological roots, and if you haven’t got that desire, well, you must be lying to yourself. I genuinely don’t feel I am lying to myself; I just haven’t a strong desire to trace those roots. That isn’t to say that I won’t ever feel that desire, merely that – as of now – it’s not played a big part in my life. Yes, of course I have at times wondered about them, but – somehow – I have always had a really strong sense of who my parents were and what they were like – even though I couldn’t possibly have any conscious memory of them. Maybe it is a biological imprint that we are born with..? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve always been far more interested in understanding how my early life experiences have shaped me, than finding out who the people I came from were. So, let’s go back to exploring that: 

Apart from being abandoned, Baby S. is also the one who had to deal with the most extreme life change out of all of the parts that make up my internal system. At seven months old her whole life was turned upside down and inside out when she was brought from the orphanage in the loud and crowded city of Calcutta, to a tiny coastal town in the very north of Sweden. I don’t think the climate or cultural change could have been greater. This was a new life, in a whole new world, with strange new smells and sounds and ways of doing things. And a whole new set of people. A mother and a father and two older brothers, one of whom was also a deeply traumatised young child [2.5 years old on the papers, in reality closer to four] brought over from an entirely different part of India, at the same time. 

One of the things that is always said about me as a baby, post adoption, is that I was “such a good little baby”, meaning that I was a very quiet baby; I rarely fussed and I slept more than most. I was also out of nappies before I was a year old. Every time another story gets retold for the umpteenth time of what a good baby I were, I always have an urge to scream that “Of course I didn’t fuss! Why would I?” and I can feel that it is the Baby S. part of me having this reaction. By the time I was seven months old and came to Sweden I had already learned that there was no point in crying if I needed something, whether it be food, a new nappy or a cuddle, because no one would come, no matter how desperately I cried.. I simply had to wait my turn, whether I understood the concept of waiting or not. So, I stopped crying, stopped fussing, stopped trying to get the attention, care, and love that I so desperately needed. Because I knew that it was pointless. And the sleeping? Well, I’m no expert – but it sounds to me like either a stress relieving coping mechanism kicking in, or early depression. Or, more than likely, both.  

Because of Baby S. inside of me, I experience intense anger whenever I hear people asking new parents “Is he a good baby?”. What’s the answer to that? “No, she’s an absolutely terrible baby, she demands feeding and changing and she won’t let us sleep for more than half an hour at a time!” To me, good does not equal quiet – and I know that my sensitivity to this kind of talk is really Baby S. having an emotional respons. She can’t help but to kick off when someone starts talking in those terms. Which is great – finally she is able to express herself, be it through emotions rather than words. 

That brings us to one of the challenges of allowing Baby S. space in our therapy. Baby S. is pre-verbal, she doesn’t have language – or rather, she hasn’t got words. So, how can she be part of the therapy? I haven’t got a definitive answer to that. I mean how do you get a pre-verbal part to speak? My solution so far is to work on getting Adult Me to become more attuned to Baby S.’s emotional signals, so that she can verbalise on Baby S.’s behalf. It’s not an ideal solution, because dressing a baby’s emotional world in adult vocabulary requires translation, but it is a starting point in terms involving Baby S. in our therapy. The first step to giving Baby S. a voice in the outside world is to listen for it. So, I try to get Adult Me to actively listen to what Baby S. is communicating. It’s sometimes – often, actually – rather a difficult thing to do, especially if what Baby S. is desperately wanting to say, happens to be the exact same thing that Adult Me is wanting to hide from, and still needs to defend agains.

I believe that Baby S. only ever communicates truths – she has not learned that truth can be manipulated to suit one’s needs – and conflict can occur when Adult Me is not yet ready to face that truth. Still, it is work in progress. Through Adult Me’s active listening, and through her translation into spoken word, Baby S.’s feelings can be brought into the open in the space I share with P., and together we can work with it. 

And there is a lot of stuff to work with. Trust me. 

There is an excellent blog called Everyone Needs Therapy – a sentiment I share. Only I would take it one step further and say that Every Part Of You Needs Therapy.



Take good care of your Selfs,

xx 

Concrete Angels

 how i used to feel

and how i still feel sometimes; 

sad and frozen in concrete

 

little s

 
 

adult me

 

 

baby s

  

Found Some Words..

OK, so I’ll admit it; I wrote that heading in the hope that I will find some words now that I start writing.. There are no guarantees at this stage, especially regarding the quality of said words..but, I’ll give it a whirl just the same.. [Bear with, bear with..]

So, I made it though The Break. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. In the past I have generally found that the beginning of a break is harder, because it is as if my body clock is telling me “today is a therapy day” and my whole being is expecting a solid fifty-minute-hour to release tension. The longer the break goes on, the less loudly my internal therapy clock ticks, because it is getting used to not having that thrice weekly outlet and is slowly finding alternative ways of managing in its absence. This time, however, was different – and I can’t really say why, because I don’t know why. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that it is to do with the fact that I am far more attached to P. than I ever was to A. [or even D.], and the longer we were apart, the more panicked I became that the connection P. and I have formed was beginning to disintegrate. I did find alternative ways of managing this time too, but it didn’t really alleviate the panic. In simple terms: I missed P. terribly – not just the service she provides, but I missed her, I missed us. And, again quite differently to past breaks, I allowed myself to admit that I was missing her. I made no attempts to try to convince myself that she’s not that important, or that it’s really just the structure of my week that I miss. And, as much as that made the break more difficult, I also know that this is real progress. This is me genuinely allowing someone in, allowing myself to become attached, taking a risk I usually wouldn’t take. So, definitely progress.

So, what did I do during my break? Well, in part I did what you could see in my previous post: tons of art. I also did some tie dying and some bleach printing and some shoe painting – all of which was very enjoyable and helped the hours and days pass in a positive way. Some samples below – feel free to scroll past, to read the rest of this post..

 

Tie-dye project
No children were harmed in the making of this collage!

 
 

Bleach print project
Again – No children were harmed. However, one tee was a complete fail and consequently got randomly squirted with fabric paint!

 

Still with me? Ok. Back to the tale of “How I Survived My Therapy Break”..

So, the arty-crafty stuff definitely helped a lot, but no matter how busy I tried to keep myself there was always going to be times when I really really really missed therapy – and P. I knew this was going to happen before the break, and – again unlike other times – it was something P. and I had talked about beforehand. In the year we have been working together, forging this relationship, therapy breaks have always been very tough. They just bring out so much Stuff [paradoxically, this is also one of the reasons why breaks are useful]. At times, even weekends have been torturous, so we’ve had to come up with things to help me feel close to P. even between single sessions. 

One of the things we do is that P. will lend me her pen – the one she always has in her ridiculously big handbag. This idea with the pen was actually a suggestion from one of you readers a while back, in a comment after another post about therapy breaks. This – having P.’s pen – has really been great for me; I use her pen to write in my journal, and it makes me feel a little like we are having a session. [By now I know P. well enough to be able to predict what her response might be to the things I say/write]. So, for me, a pen is great. P. did once offer to lend me one of her scarves [we are both Scarf Wearing People – it’s a thing!], but at the time that felt way too much for me, far too overwhelming, and I declined her offer. A pen, on the other hand, was just right. Small and emotionally manageable. 

Apart from the pen P. has also sent me photos of herself. This has been especially useful if we have had a particularly rough session and I’ve been worried that I’ve become too much for her – because that way I can look at the photo she’s just taken and I can see for myself that she is still OK, that, in spite of the things I have told her, she hasn’t broken down or disappeared. I have also sent her a picture of me, so she can carry me with her when she is on leave. P. often uses the phrase “I carry you in my heart” and, for me, her having a photo of me, is an extension of that. 

Prior to both this break and the previous one, apart from P. lending me her pen, I lent her a bottle of nail varnish. I’m very into nail art [the only sort-of girly thing about me], so her wearing/having my nail polish makes me feel more connected to her. I don’t really think that P. would forget me without these physical reminders – after all she ‘carries me in her heart‘ –  but the Little S. part of me finds this very reassuring, and since that is the part of me that generally struggles the most in P.’s absence [because she is the one who has experienced the most abandonment] it makes sense to pay extra attention to her needs. Especially when Adult Me finds it difficult to fully own those feelings herself..

Finally, the thing that probably helps me the most during breaks:  writing letters. Real, physical, handwritten, old skool letters. I let any part of me [Little S., Adult Me, bob..] write P. whenever they want, and they can decorate the letters and envelopes in any way they want, so P. can see who it is from. I will then hand deliver the letters, because that means I get to go to the place where I see P., and it’s another step towards reassuring the different parts of me that even though P. is away, our therapy space still exists. So, that is something I would really recommend.

Wow! Looks like I found rather a lot of words in the end! Hope that’s OK.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

Progress And Pain – Parenting My Inner Child

It’s been a long time. It’s been too long, really. I suppose that I just needed a proper break from things. Or, rather, I needed to use what little energy I could muster to deal with the bare essentials, hence largely withdrawing from the world, both online and in my day-to-day interactions with family and friends.

It has been, and still is, a very rough ride. Since the beginning of the year I have had three rounds of crisis team intervention and one admission to Drayton Park, all with that burning hopeless feeling that ‘It’s pointless, it won’t make a difference’. Except, from an external point of view it has; I am still here now. I might not have been.

Therapy is the one thing that I feel is actually going well. But, as is so often the case when it comes to therapy, ‘going well’ involves a decent sized chunk of dizzying pain. The therapeutic process has never been heralded as a ‘free from unwanted side effects’ type of medication..

I continue to build my relationship with P., doing this quirky little two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance, putting my most deep seated fears and trust issues through their paces. Progress is slow, but at least we are moving. Those of you who have been in therapy will know exactly what I am talking about; one session and – almost out of nowhere – you find the courage of a lioness and take a giant leap forward, right across the abyss – the next two sessions; withdrawing and giving in to age-old fears of being let down, needing to test and re-test your therapist, to check that they really are for real, that those encouraging words won’t turn out to just be empty promises.

My need for emotional hand-holding and reassurance has known no limits in these last months and weeks, and consequently P. has had to work darn hard for the pennies.. She tells me that she knew what she was signing up for when she decided to take me on, I argue that she can’t possibly have known – because she didn’t know me – she then agrees that this is true, but reassures me that she has a very strong sense of what she can cope with, and that I really really really am not too much for her. And we take another tiny step forward.

As I have said many times before, I don’t think therapy is meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be worth it.

Right now we are standing at the door of a two week therapy break, so – predictably – all of Little S.’s abandonment fears are awakened and hyper aroused. Adult Me works hard to try to explain that it will be OK, that we have been through – and have survived – many, many breaks before, and that we will get through this one, too, but Little S. clamps her hands firmly over her little ears, certain that this is the end of the safety and pseudo-mothering we have enjoyed from P.

What it boils down to is that my inner child, just like any other child, has no real understanding of time, and so a separation from P. is not a temporary state, but is permanent and absolute. And, again like most children, when the caregiver goes away, she assumes that this must be because of something she has done. This, in turn, makes Little S., go back and forth between putting unrealistic pressure on herself to be ‘all good’ [because, if she is very very good, maybe P. won’t leave her] and needing to self-punish [because she must have been bad, to make P. go away]. Adult Me works very hard to try to help regulate the extremes, but parenting your own inner child is not an easy task, especially when so many of Little S.’s thought patterns and beliefs still live on in Adult Me.

I still have three sessions left before the commencement of this two-week-bordering-on-eternity break, so there is time to talk this through with P., time to get another shot of reassurance injected, and hopefully that will alleviate at least some of Little S.’s [and Adult Me’s] anxiety.

We’ll see..

Anyway, take good care of your Selves, and thank you all so much for sticking with me through this hiatus, of sorts.

xx

Twenty-fourteen – A Year Of Changes & Challenges

I thought I’d make one final push to get an update out before the end of the year. I’m not in a great place, hence radio silence on most channels, but sometimes that’s when the best blog posts come out, so let’s hope for the best. Could be nothing, could be something.

It’s been a rough year. There are no two ways about it. At the beginning of the year I ended with my therapist of five years and started over with a new one. It’s a big transition, moving from A. to P., and a huge emotional undertaking. It’s a bit like being asked to switch out your parents. Sure, your parents might not always get you, might be unfair, might make mistakes, might be downright unsuitable to parent anyone, but at least you know them, right? You know their habits, their triggers, their blind spots and you know how they react to the things you say and do. And you also know how you react to the things they say and do. It’s that comfortable – if often less-than-ideal – Familiar versus the scarily unpredictable Unknown that I’ve written about so many times in the past.

That was pretty much what I was going through with A. at the beginning of the year, as we slowly neared and then reached The Ending. Things had been running along the heading-for-an-irreparable-relationship-breakdown route for some time – probably for far longer than I was ready to admit to you, or myself, at the time – but at least I knew what to expect, knew when odds were that my words would be met with silence, knew when there was potential for disappointment. I also knew what not to say and what not to do to keep the status quo, to keep us from falling off the edge. In addition, I was standing on the bedrock of our previous years together, all the times we had communicated really well, spoken a similar emotional language. I had a good sense of where we had one another, of how big or small the distance between us was at any given time, how close we could get, how much trust there was and where the boundaries of our relationship were; all those things that had made our work together so meaningful and fruitful for such a long time. So, it was with a lot of sadness that I had to accept that the time for us to part ways had come.

I had met P. only once before we actually started our joint therapeutic journey. Fifty shared minutes during an initial consultation to decide whether or not we could be A Match. I left that first meeting in December last year feeling that, yes, she could potentially be someone I could learn to trust, given enough time and space to Thoroughly Test what sort of stuff she was made of. But, apart from that gut feeling I didn’t know much about her [or attachment-based therapy] when I went for my first real session in February. I knew that there was something about the way she actively sought to make eye contact in that first meeting that both scared me beyond reason and made me feel that she genuinely wanted to get to know the real me. Actually, let me rephrase that: the way she actively sought to make eye contact with me scared me beyond reason, because she so clearly wanted to get to know the Real Me. Not just the Me she could glean or guess at from the polite introductory phrases or the bullet pointing of my fragmented, chequered and often painful past during this initial meeting, but the Real Me hiding behind all that – the Me that only comes out after the Thorough Testing has been done. The Me that even A., after nearly five years, was only just beginning to get to know.

I took the plunge, and it turned out that the water was far more calm and warm than I had expected. As K. put it only the other day: ‘When you finished with A. I didn’t think you’d ever be able to build a relationship with another therapist. I thought the trust had been shattered for good. I’m amazed at how quickly your relationship with P. has developed.’ I get exactly what K. meant, because it was what I, myself, was thinking at the time. How would I be able to trust? Why should I?

I suppose the answer to that lies in the way P. is, really. I wasn’t at all ready to trust, and P. was able to accept that completely, without any expectation that this would change. Was able to meet me where I was at. She was able to accept that I simply didn’t know if I really wanted to go on with therapy, or even with life. The exact thing that had ultimately caused the breakdown with A. The very thing A. had made clear she couldn’t accept; that I may not only feel that life wasn’t for me, but that I might actually act on it. P. made me, almost immediately – without the Thorough Testing – feel that this was a part of me she could accept. She in no way gave me license to act, but she simply accepted that this could be one of the paths our journey might take.

Then, of course, only a few months later this was put to the test. A splash of a toxic chemical on my tongue, the swallowing of some tricyclics – which I still to this day don’t remember taking – an ambulance ride from the women’s crisis centre to A&E and eleven hours in a coma.

Some might say this was part of my Thorough Testing. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I know is that we survived it: P. didn’t break, didn’t conclude that the reality of acting out was so different from the theory and phantasy of it that she could no longer work with me.

And our relationship grew a little stronger.

The aftermath of this overdose – along with a previous, more serious, intake of that same ototoxic chemical – was the loss of most of what remained of my already damaged hearing. Another big thing to deal with; the knowledge that my actions would have a lifelong effect – near deafness. But, also, in a backwards kind of way, the realisation that even when I mess up it is still within my power to do something about it; the decision to hop on the not-so-joyful steroid ride, the slight but miraculous recovery of some hearing, the sorting out of hearing aids [even though it at times makes me feel I’m ninety-something rather than thirty-something].

And all year long this journey has of course been fenced in and intercepted by flashbacks, by horrendous memories of a past that is never really in the past and by nightmares that don’t go away just because I wake up. Post but-never-quite-over traumatic stress disorder. The stuff that makes day to day life all but impossible to plan. The never knowing if a day will be a 40, 100 or near continuos flashback day. Making plans, cancelling plans, scheduling and rescheduling – because I simply can’t know in advance if any given day will be one where I can leave my house without putting myself at risk.

At the moment it seems worse than usual, more 100-a-day days than 40s. I went to visit my father for the first time in two and a half years at the end of November. That may have something to do with it. I don’t know. It might be related to the fact that both P. and K. have now gone on their respective Chrismukkah breaks, leaving Little S. feeling sad, scared and abandoned, and Adult Me struggling to cope in their absence. Or it might be chance. But, whatever the reason, it’s not so easy to deal with.

Anyway, I want to take the time to thank all of you who have faithfully stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year, in spite the updates being few and far between. It does make such a difference to me. It touches me deeply every single time one of you takes the time to post a comment or write me an email to share a bit of your Selfs with me. I know that is how most of my replies to your communications begin, but it is for a good reason: it’s the truth. I am very grateful for your support.

So, wherever you are in your lives, whatever is going on for you right now, good or bad, I do wish you all the very best.

xx

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Starting Over After A Break

               *

“Lily, oh Lily – I don’t feel safe
I feel that life has blown a great big hole through me.”
And she said,
“Child, you must protect yourself,
You can protect yourself;
I’ll show you how with fire..”

                           [from ‘Lily’ by Kate Bush ©1993]

 

 

 

I have had my first two post-summer break therapy sessions now. And it has felt, well.. strange. Both on Monday and today I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied at the beginning of session. [I am often silent during the first few minutes of a session, but I don’t often feel that I can’t speak]. There were plenty of thoughts and feelings buzzing around, but I just didn’t seem able to catch hold of any of them to translate into words.

In the very first session I was initially completely overwhelmed by how powerful the relief of seeing P. was. I hadn’t expected to have quite such a strong emotional response. I could almost physically feel Little S. doing backflips in sheer joy at the sight of P. in her chair. Back where she belongs.

And, at the same time, there was a real urge to withdraw and protect myself from anything and anyone who wasn’t me. To go to my island, the one that is so tiny that it only has room for me. The one where I feel safe in the knowledge that no one else can get to me.

See, that’s the funny thing about Little S.; as happy as she was to see P., – and she was very happy – she is also naturally suspicious of others. Just because P. was back and everything seemed alright, it didn’t necessarily mean that Little S. would readily take that at face value. So, she went from being absolutely delighted to have P. back to ‘You disappeared on me, so I’m not quite ready to trust you yet’ in seconds flat. You see, Little S. is – as I explained to P. in today’s session – a lot like Little My of the Moomin Valley; there is only ever enough space for one feeling at a time and she can go from one to another in no time at all. One second ‘overjoyed that P. was back’, and then – boom – ‘suspicious that she might do another disappearing act’.

 

- Little My - "If you're angry you're angry." Little My reasoned, peeling her potato with her teeth. "You're supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right."


“If you’re angry you’re angry,” reasoned Little My, peeling her potato with her teeth.
“You’re supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right.”
[From Moominpappa At Sea by Tove Jansson ©1965]

 

P. suggested that maybe Little S. is quite angry with her – or even really angry with her– for leaving her to fend for herself while she went on a nice long break. As soon as P. said that Little S. – sensing danger at being called on her negative feelings – had to go into hiding, and Adult Me was left to explain that Little S. wasn’t quite ready to deal with those feelings yet, [“Little S. has left the building”] even if P.’s guess was probably spot on and Adult Me would have liked to have been able to talk about it, together with Little S.

At the beginning of today’s session, while still in Unable To Speak-mode, I became aware that there was a song playing in my head. It seemed unlikely to be chance that that particular song had decided to play, so I shared a few somewhat random lines from it with P.: “Child, take what I say with a pinch of salt, and protect yourself with fire”. At the time I felt very aware that I was leaving out two lines about feeling unsafe and being afraid, but as I am writing this now, I am thinking that maybe that’s not the end of the world? I have another session tomorrow, and if I want to, I can mention making that choice – so we can look at the reasons for consciously leaving those oh-so-revealing lines out, or I can leave it as it is, because even though I missed out parts of the lyrics, we kind of managed to touch on the themes of not feeling safe anyway.

We also spoke about feeling unsure if this need to protect myself through withdrawing [from P.] is something I – or at least Little S. – genuinely needs to do in order to cope, or if it is something I now do per automatik, unquestioningly and without thinking, because it is what I have ‘always’ done.

I suppose that this is a constant battle for me; striking the right balance between being mindful of Little S.’s needs, and challenging her to take tiny steps forward.. It is also, admittedly, a struggle at times to manage Adult Me’s frustration with the amount of time Little S. needs to take any little steps at all. I often find myself having to repeat the mantra that ‘baby steps are also steps’ to Adult Me, because if she had her way, she could quite easily race ahead at a pace neither Little S. nor Adult Me is ready to cope with..

 

All the very best,

xx

 

Lily from the album The Red Shoes. This video features in Bush's short film The Line, The cross and The Curve.
Kate Bush © 1993

Hearing the Littles – A Therapy Break Update

Våga Lita - Dare Trust A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

Våga Lita – Dare Trust
A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

It is far too early on a Sunday morning for me, or indeed anyone, to be awake. But, I am. Anxiety is stretching my nerves to the point of breaking, and I have been unable to sleep for about forty hours. Insomnia isn’t out of the norm for me; it is part of my pattern. But the anxiety is. Or, at least, the level of anxiety. I can feel the extreme imbalance of the chemicals surging through my system, splashing around, crashing into each other and the rocky shores of my insides that have until now been unknown to me. The inner landscape of my body is soaked, drenched, in acidic anxiety, and I can’t think of how to rid myself of it, how to alkalise.

I know that I can and will get through this. I have survived it before, and I will again. It is just that the strength of emotions have taken me by surprise. Yes, I was nervous about this upcoming break in therapy for weeks before it started, but I thought that perhaps this time might be different, because, in contrast to many other breaks, I – we – P. and I, had spent so much time talking about it, preparing for it, putting in place things to make it more manageable. And I, foolishly it seems now, thought that that in itself might dull the sharpness of my feelings. But it doesn’t.

I miss P. terribly, and even though I have talked to my friends about it, and many of them have responded with empathy – more so than in the past, it seems – I am still left feeling that no one really understands the depth of my emotions. Or maybe it is a sense that others expect Adult Me – the intellectualising, reasoning, part of me – to handle this, to take charge and make it all OK, for all of the different parts inside of me. Truth be told, I think that even I expect her to.

But, what happens during a therapy break – a break from my pseudo parent – is that Little S. – not Adult Me – is the one who is reacting to this separation. Adult Me can watch, but can do nothing about that, because Adult Me wasn’t there when the fear of separation and abandonment, was born. Adult Me hadn’t yet been formed when Little S. – or even before then – tiny Baby S. were dealing with life in a world where there simply was no stability, where her parents gave her up and left her to fend for herself, completely void of tools with which to do so. Because of this, the reassurance Adult Me is continually trying to offer rings hollow to Baby S., in exactly the same way reassurance from anybody else does. Adult Me may be one of many parts that forms the whole of me, but she wasn’t there when it happened, and as far as the Littles are concerned, she doesn’t get it any more than my incredibly kind and well-meaning friends do. Not emotionally. And Little and Baby feel just as nakedly defenceless as they did back then.

Of course Adult Me has acquired lots of tools over the years to deal with situations like these. And during normal, daytime, hours, she makes the most of those tools and is often successful in temporarily alleviating much of the fear and anxiety. But when the rest of the world goes to sleep, and Adult Me is exhausted from a day of constantly trying to soothe those Little parts, when she needs a break to stock up on supplies, that’s when the primal scream of Baby S. sounds the loudest, deafening all intellectualisation and reasoning.

Baby S. was about six months old when she was adopted, when she came to live with her new parents in Sweden. No one knows, and Baby S. can’t remember, what happened in the six months before then. But the emotional echoes of the feelings born in those months still bounce between the walls of her outer shell, and when something like this – a separation, a perceived abandonment from a care giver – happens, those echoes amplify and drown out everything else. The echoes are always there, even in peacetime, noticeable in the fear of forming attachments with others and the difficulty in trusting, but when an actual separation happens something explodes in her, because just as Baby S. couldn’t know at the time that that abandonment would be temporary, she is now – still – blind to this fact. Baby S. only knows the here and now, isn’t able to look to the future, so when Adult Me, in sheer exhaustion, takes a break from reassuring Baby S., Baby S. thinks that this will last forever.

I wrote an email to P. a few weeks prior to her going on her summer break, about the whole How to cope with your therapist abandoning you for a minor eternity-issue, and as I am writing this now, it strikes me that that is exactly what I am dealing with: a minor eternity. It is minor in the eyes of the world, even in Adult Me’s eyes, but to Baby S. and Little S. – both of them too young to understand the concept of weeks or days or even minutes – it is an Eternity. And eternities have no foreseeable end.

As I wrote at the beginning, I will get through this separation, just as I have got through separations in the past. But in order to help Baby S. and Little S. I need to remind Adult Me to deal with them gently and patiently in the understanding that they have not yet got as far in the healing process as she has. They will get there eventually, but it will take more than the survival of a few therapy breaks for them to feel safe enough to integrate fully, to get to a place where The Whole can begin to work as a single entity, rather than as a multitude of frightened independent parts.

So, I say to myself, as much as I do to you:
be kind to your Selves.

 

Much love,

xx

 

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..