Thinking I Can’t Survive What’s Below..

My favourite therapy session of the week – timewise – is my Tuesday session, which doesn’t start until six thirty in the evening. In the autumn and winter this means that it will be dark already when I get there, so there is always that feeling ofnothing exists apart from me, A., the room we’re in and the things we say. And often this sets the tone for the sessions themselves; I tend to be more still within myself, more in the moment, better able to just talk freely.

So, too, this week. Talked about how it’s coming up to a year since I first saw my adoption papers which – among other things – state that my parents wanted to adopt boys and that I’ve not yet been able to talk to either of my parents about this. I have, however, spent a fair amount of time in session talking about this and how I feel about it, so it wasn’t new material per se.

And then, about five seconds before the end of session A. made the comment “..and of course, apart from telling you what your parents did and didn’t want, those papers are also an inescapable reminder that you were put up for adoption in the first place. And that is something you never talk about.”

So I left session with that comment in my head, feeling actually quite upset with A. for doing that to me; bringing something so indescribably big up at the very end of session, when all I could do was to go home and react to those words on my own, with no one to talk it through with.

Now, I have a session on Wednesday afternoon – so in reality there isn’t more than a few hours between sessions. But sometimes those hours can last an eternity.

Spent a sleepless night, basically for the first time ever really thinking about what it means to have been given up. It wasn’t nice and it wasn’t pretty. And, no, I don’t think I was really ready to go there – not like that and not on my own, but I couldn’t stop it, couldn’t change the fact that the dam had been breached.

Yes, I know, this is not A.’s fault. Things don’t come out by chance, regardless of the trigger. Whatever my mind was serving me it came from me. I know this. But, it was still scary as anything. Because I genuinely didn’t know if I’d be able to cope with it. There is a reason why people build protective walls around things that are terrifying.

Still, come Wednesday, I was determined to not repeat my habit of avoidance, of choosing to not talk about things that scare me. So I started out by saying how I felt about A. leaving me with that comment, and then went on to spend the rest of session talking about the thoughts that had been rocking my soul all night.

I’m not going to go into detail about what I said, because it’s all kind of raw, and this feels too public a forum to verbalise the deepest thoughts that I have spent so long trying to shy away from. I mean, this was, literally, the very first time I spoke about any of these things, in fact many of the thoughts and emotions were new even to me, most of them only just starting to take form, to crystallise.

But, leaving session, I kind of knew that..

I’ve spent life hovering above bottom
Thinking I can’t survive what’s below
But I’ve known through the kicking and screaming
That there was no other direction to go

That, eventually therapy.. life.. would lead me to this point.
That I’d have to touch the sorest of sores.

xx

It’s A Bitch To Grow Up by Alanis Morissette
[scroll to bottom of page for lyrics in their entirety]

It’s A Bitch To Grow Up
[from the album Flavours of Entanglement]

It’s been 10 years of investment
It’s been one foot in and one out
It’s been 4 days of watershed
And I feel snuffed out

It’s been 33 years of restraining
Of trying to control this tumult
How I did invest in such fantasy
But my nervous system has worn out

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
And all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

I’ve repeated this dance ad-nauseum
There’s still something to learn that I’ve not
I’m told to see this as divine perfection
But my bones don’t feel this perfection

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
And all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

I’ve spent life hovering above bottom
Thinking I can’t survive what’s below
But I’ve known through the kicking and screaming
That there was no other direction to go

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
And all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

Alanis Morissette

 

Lyrics from It's A Bitch To Grow Up © Alanis Morissette
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Greyzone – A Very Fine Line Between Today And Tomorrow

In my most recent therapy session A and I had a conversation which went something like this:

A: “I think you have this idea that you can control which parts of you other people are allowed to see. But, then, there’s the unconscious communication.. which also plays a part.” Pause. Then, a gentle offer: “You can let go of that phantasy.”

Pause.

S: “That leaves me feeling…… exposed..”
A: “Good!” *smiles*

I think this may be my favourite moment in therapy thus far. Something in that exchange felt very honest, genuine. Made me think of Mearns & Cooper’s concept of relational depth.

Also it lead on to thinking about what letting go of that phantasy would mean, not only in my therapy, but on a wider level. That, if I am to embrace this idea that I’m not actually as in control of what other people can and can’t see as I’d like to believe, it also means that I’ll have to let go of the highly held notion that, as a child, I was sooo good an actress that there was no wayyy anyone could have understood what was really going on, that something was very very wrong, and ultimately leaving me with the conclusion that either people were genuinely blind, or they chose not to see. Neither of which is particularly nice to think of.

So, tonight I have the dubious pleasure of torturing myself with trying to figure out which option applies to whom.. Not great. Especially since A. is now off for two weeks, meaning that I’ll have to somehow find a way on my own, to not let these thoughts spin completely out of control.

Oh, I know – I’ve got a pretty busy schedule for these two weeks [indeed, all of September will be fairly manic] – and if I can only hold on until tomorrow morning I should, logically, be ok, having far too many other, more pressing, things to fill my pretty little brain with.

So.. bis morgen, meine lieben Freunde –
Tschüs!

xx

Gravitation, Psychotherapy & Letting Go Of Control

Those in the know claim that gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces [interactions], proven by the fact that even a very small magnet can pick up a paperclip, and thereby out-power gravity. I’m not sure, but maybe this is why I sometimes feel like I’m falling off the face of earth the second I let go of even a little bit of control.

In most instances I’m actually not much of a control freak. But when it comes to being in charge of feelings, boy do I keep my cards close to my chest!

This is, naturally, something I am trying to challenge in my therapy. Allowing myself to feel the full force of my emotions, and also letting A. catch a glimpse of it every once in a while.

It’s hard work, letting go of control. It’s frightening and draining and sometimes excruciatingly painful. But, you know what they say; no pain no gain!

So, lately, this has been my objective in session. To try not to fight whatever emotion is roused within, but to let it come, if not quite to the open, at least very close to the surface.

And, I think I’m doing reasonably well. I mean, I’ve yet to cry in session – but I am getting much better at sitting with my feelings and trying to dress them in words. Also, I am trying to bring all of me to session. By that I mean that rather than sharing some things with some people, and other things with other people [thus spreading the risk of over-burdening any one person], I am trying to be as open as I possibly can with A.

That said, there is still one area which I am very much struggling to talk about in session, but I think I am nudging closer to perhaps daring to share it with her.

You see, the thing with therapy is that it’s not a 12-step program, going from A to B to C; it’s a process, and as such you’re allowed to take your time, to test the water. Dip your toe before taking the plunge.

In the last few sessions I have got really close to just go for it – to take a deep breath and let go and trust that A. will catch me. I feel like I’m at the very edge of my fear, and any session now it will happen.

Hopefully.

I leave you with this Swedish track: “Gravitation” by Kent.
(Be a bit patient with the commercial at the beginning of the clip).

Ruins, Emotion & Change – Learning How To Feel

Had my first session at A.’s new place yesterday. Owing to my negative sense of direction I gave myself a ridiculous amount of time to find the place. As it turns out it was both needed and not needed. Went down the wrong road twice (not great when you’ve got a knee injury which is making every step agony) – but I still found the road well in time for session, meaning I ended up loitering on a side street for some thirty minutes. Luckily someone in the area had an open internet connection so I filled the time randomly browsing the interweb. Also it gave me the time to read another chapter of Dr Maroda’s book. (See previous post).

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog offerings anxiety levels have been on a steady upward curve for the last couple of weeks, since I found out about A.’s move. Things, big things, are stirring inside of me. I do realise this is not all to do with A.’s move; the effect is far in excess of the cause. Admittedly, there are a number of things happening in my life, all of which have an effect – but this still feels different, disconnected somehow, to present events. It feels like a change on a much, much deeper level – outside of specific causes; on a basic human level.

Last Thursday I suddenly felt absolutely overwhelmed by emotions. I happened to be on the phone with my sisters at the time, but even that didn’t help. It was a tsunami-like wave of feelings that completely swept me off my feet, made me loose my grip. So I hung up on my sisters to try to deal with this. My initial feeling – or actually it was more of a self-protective instinct – was to try to shut down. Only I couldn’t. Next this very intense urge to cut hit me, wanting desperately to reach for those scalpels. But even at the height of intensity, in the middle of the urge, I knew that I wasn’t going to resort to that. Instead I tried to just stay in the moment – allow those feelings to be. To not fight them, even though every cell in my body was preparing for flight mode. I ended up curled up in bed, foetal position, unable to do anything but just breathe. In and out, through the experience. Just breathing. That was all I could cope with.

Getting a scalpel out would have been the easy option, but I knew that something big was happening, and that I had to find a way to let it. I had one single thought in my head that I can consciously remember: I need to find a way to bring this experience to session on Tuesday.

So this session, the first one at The New Place, was, at least for me, very different to other sessions. I’m not sure if it was noticeable to A., but I was very consciously allowing myself to just go quiet every time a feeling came over me. I didn’t really try to verbalise it much, because for me, even just allowing the feelings to exist (as opposed to immediately, and by any means necessary, control them) is pretty big. I don’t know if it showed on my face or not; it’s possible that to the outside world it would not have been possible to discern this difference in me. But, to me, this was a huge step. To allow myself to fully feel. And in the presence of another person.

At one stage in the session, having tried to explain what happened on Thursday (and has been happening – albeit in smaller doses – since then) to A. I asked if maybe this is me regressing. I posed it as a question, but, really I suppose what I was doing was trying to tell A. that this is what I believe is happening.

Later A. asked what I was regressing to, and also commented that I seem unsure as to whether I’m going backwards or forwards. I explained that I don’t really think of it as regressing backwards in a real sense, but more about somehow allowing myself to feel the things I should have felt a long time ago. Acknowledging these feelings.

As I said that a song popped into my head, so I quoted part of it to A.:

“..I will crawl through my past
over stones blood and glass
in the ruins

Reaching under the fence
as I try to make sense
in the ruins..

But if I am to heal
I must first learn to feel
in the ruins..”

Now, I’m not convinced about the need to be crawling over stones, blood or glass, nor am I sure that it is possible to make sense of the ruins or the damage done – some things are simply senseless – but I do think that there is a need to explore the past. Not necessarily through recounting and re-visiting every single memory in graphically verbalised detail – but rather through a true acceptance of the feelings attached to those memories.

“..if I am to heal, I must first learn to feel..”

So, frightening and painful as this experience is, I am absolutely sure that without allowing these emotions to play out you can’t bring about real change. Yes, you can change things on the surface. Of course you can. But not on a real lasting and deep level. For that you need to accept yourself as a vulnerable, feeling human being.

xx

PS. I was going to post a link to a YouTube clip of Melissa Etheridge performing Ruins – but I couldn’t find one that matched in emotion what the lyrics are saying. They all seemed too “showy”. Instead I recommend you listen to the studio version, which can be found on ME’s 1993 Yes, I Am-album.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back – An Entry About Slow But Steady Progress

As you’ve probably noticed reading my blog, I have been increasingly struggling with some very dark thoughts of self-harm and suicide. I’ve been doing my very best to be able to contain myself, to keep myself safe and to not act on my impulses. I’ve been calling various helplines at all hours of the day and night and using tens of different distraction techniques. Basically, I’ve given it my all to make it through, to hold it together, until D. comes back and I’ll once again have the space and the guidance I so desperately need.

But sometimes, as hard as you try, it’s just not enough. Lately I have felt myself seriously slipping and losing my focus, forgetting altogether what it is that I want to achieve.

So, I decided to do something for me drastically different. I decided that rather than tell people I need help by acting on my impulses, drinking anti-freeze and suchlike, I would simply reach out and ask for it. I spoke to a very close friend of mine who called up the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre to start a referral. There were a few ifs and buts, but the sum total is that I am back at the centre now for one week, to give me the chance to re-discover what the real me is like. I remember reading Freud’s metaphor for regression where he likened the phenomenon to that of an army retreating to the last safe stronghold. Much in the same way have I now retreated to the last place I felt I could get the help and support I need. This is not in any way criticism towards any of the many wonderful people I have in my life, who have all been worried and tried to help to the best of their ability – but merely stating a fact; The last time I felt really safe and able to express my fears was at Drayton Park – at my sessions with D. and also during my residence there earlier in the year.

I have been allocated two key workers – both of whom I have not worked much with in the past, but I have also had one-to-ones with one of my main workers from my last stay, and I think the combination of new input and ideas and talking to someone who knows me reasonably well is very helpful for me.

I have changed a lot since my last stay there, and also my stay this time around will, as I mentioned before, be decidedly shorter; one week compared to the five weeks of my previous stay. So, it’s different. It’s different also because there are different women staying there at the moment. However, there are two people there from my last stay, and that’s really nice – it means I don’t get as shy as I normally get around people I don’t know very well, and it helps me challenge myself to interact with the people I don’t yet know.

Another change, and one of the really major changes within is how I really feel about myself. I suppose that it goes hand in hand with starting to allow myself to feel things about the actual abuse; it alters the way I feel about myself. And although some may argue that I’ve always had a somewhat weak self-image this somehow feels different now. Whereas I may previously have disliked aspects of myself I now genuinely loathe everything that I am, and I feel absolutely disgusted by myself.

I am aware that this is an enormously common way for abuse survivors to feel; in fact I talked about this this very morning with my previous key worker. That in order to overcome and heal I need to acknowledge, in the true sense of the word, the fact that what happened really was abuse, and much like how people mourning go through a series of comparatively predictive phases, so do people who have experienced abuse, often starting with questioning their own role in it, feeling as if they haven’t done what they could have to make it stop and so on and so on – ending up where I am now: sheer self-hatred.

But as much as I can intellectualise and analyse this, it doesn’t help one bit when it comes to dealing with the actual feeling. And that is where the asking for help comes in. I need someone to put things into perspective, to in a sense hold my hand. Help me chop things up to bite-size portions, rather than biting off so much that I end up choking on it.

So, to sum up; although it doesn’t change how I feel about myself or where I’m at right now, I’m glad that I did decide to ask for help before I got to the stage where I forget that I can.

Anyway, dear friends and random readers; I’m going to leave you now – I’m only home for a bit and I want to go cuddle Dev. Thank you all for your lovely and encouraging text messages. They mean a lot to me.

All the world has to offer and more,

xx

Moving At My Own Speed – An Entry About Accepting My Limitations

I’m struggling.
As I was saying to someone recently – I’m better than I was a couple of months ago, but worse than I have been in the last few weeks. I’m sure I’ll pull through, but it’s still difficult at the moment.

D. has been away for two weeks now and will be away for one more, meaning that I will have had no counselling for nearly a month. And it’s taking its toll. I miss having that fifty minute hour every week that’s there just for me. The safe place where I can talk about whatever is playing on my mind, where I can open up and think out loud. And, yes, damnit, I miss D. herself, too! I miss her a lot. Classic transference syndrome, I suppose; the mother I always wanted, the one who would listen and understand and more than anything react to what I say. React in a way that is appropriate to what I am telling her.

In order to manage the weeks of no counselling I have put in place a very simple coping strategy. We talked about it in my last session before she went away, since I in the past have been known to suffer in silence and then turn against myself in a radically destructive way. Basically, whenever I start feeling something, rather than pushing it away I will call one of the many helplines available to talk about it. It’s a pro-active way of avoiding going back to square one in D.’s absence. Still, as helpful as the helpline people are, they’re not quite an adequate substitute for talking to someone who actually knows my story and understands my way of thinking.

So, yes – it is tough.

Also, I started a new job a month ago. A job that is really perfect for me. Hand and glove. Or, it would be, really, had I been a hundred percent well. Ideally I had been wanting a part time job, but since it seemed such a well-suited role for me accepted it, knowing that it might be a bit too much too soon.

I made it very clear already at the interview that I would need to have Friday mornings off, since I have a regular appointment then. I didn’t tell them what the appointment was for at the interview; people have such unpredictable ideas about counselling and those in need of it – but I put it quite plainly that I would not be able to take on the job if they were unable to accommodate this. Luckily they agreed to my demand, even though I was something of an unknown quantity to them.

I started working and have really been enjoying it for the most part. I’m heading a quite big project, something I generally thrive on, and my work mates are great.

Still, I have been off work for a very long time, and reality is that it is hard to readjust. Not just mentally, but also physically. I’m not used to being out and about, I’m not tuned for a long day of thinking and coming up with creative solutions. So, while I had decided to give it a real go, I in the end had to accept that I’m not quite ready to be working full time.

One of the main issues was the fact that I felt it had an effect on my mental health progress. Although I have been able to carry on seeing D. on Fridays going back to work has presented a dilemma of sorts. One of the things that I am working very hard on, as I have mentioned before, is allowing myself to stay with my feelings. Trying to not close the door and run when I become a bit too emotional for comfort. The time immediately after my counselling sessions has been a great time for me to practise this, since it is a time where I am naturally somewhat more fragile than normal, and therefore more likely to experience strong emotions. The only problem is that now I have to go to work straight from counselling, and so I am forced to do the opposite of what I am meant to do; I have to distance myself from what I am feeling in order to be able to manage my job.

Another issue with already having a half-day off (which I, by the way, make up for by working half an hour later than everybody else every day) is that it makes it hard to be allowed time off for other things. Like seeing my care co-ordinator. I would fit it in on the Friday mornings if I could, but unfortunately she only works Monday through Wednesday.

So, last Friday I had a chat with my boss, Den. I was very open about what has been going on, and told him that unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to stay, since I’m just not up for working full time yet. I expected him to say that he was disappointed and that it would leave them in a very difficult situation since the project I’m running is such a central part of everything that goes on in the company.

Not so. Instead Den sat quietly for a few nerve-racking moments, before finally stating that he really didn’t want me to go now that he had finally found someone who not only was capable of doing the job, but who also fit in so very well with the team and that he’d simply have to persuade the powers that be to allow me to stay on as a part-timer.

After a near week of living in limbo, not knowing whether or not I should start looking for a new job, Den came back to me and told me that I’d be able to stay. I’ll be working Monday to Thursday, 9-17. Also, I will be given the flexibility to take extra time off to see my care co-ordinator. He said that he had talked to our MD and explained that basically they’d have to find a way or I would walk, and that he since I had told him my reasons for needing this he was absolutely certain that I wasn’t bluffing. Our MD had then basically said that in that case there really was no option – that I’d be doing part-time, because they couldn’t afford losing me.

Needless to say I’m more than just a little relieved at this.
I had mentally prepared myself, even before starting my new job, that I might not be able to handle it. To tell myself that it’s just a job, and there are more important things for me to focus on at the moment.

And I suppose that although I stumble every once in a while and I am struggling a bit right now, things are doubtlessly moving in the right direction and that, actually, I am coping. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. It’s so easy to forget the things you have been able to do and see only the things you have failed at, and it takes time to learn the skill of pointing out the good rather than the bad. But, I’m getting there. Slowly. At my own speed.

xx

Closer To Free

Yesterday I was feeling a bit down.
Save the day I was told I can’t do psychotherapy it’s been a while since that happened. It just kind of came over me when I got in from work. Some sort of heavy, foggy sadness that I couldn’t quite make sense of.

Initially I felt ever so slightly panicked by it. Not only because it came on so suddenly, but because my first thought was naturally Am I getting worse again? But then I sat down on the bed.

With my tiny green backpack still slung over my shoulder and my Doc Marten clad feet dangling over the edge, I probably sat like that for about ten or fifteen minutes, trying to stay in the moment, doing the exact opposite of what I would normally do; I allowed the feeling to just wash over me, engulf me, and although I didn’t actually cry I felt like I could have.

That probably doesn’t sound like much to you. But to me that’s absolutely huge. The last time I cried was in November last year. Around my birthday. With my sisters and some very close friends around. Before that was August 5th. A year ago today.

This time last year was my last evening in Sweden before returning back to London. I had had a really lovely time. I’d collected a lot of happy memories. I’d done things I’d been looking forward to all year.

And then it all fell to pieces.
I had a long conversation with my mum that night. About a lot of things. About the reason why I had chosen to spend so much more time at my sisters’ than at my mum’s house. About the fact that I feel my family don’t understand how incredibly difficult it is for me to know that whenever I go home it means I’ll have to put up with seeing my oldest brother. How near impossible it is to go back to playing the role I’ve played for so many years of my life. The Everything Is Fine role. The Of Course I Understand How Hard It Must Be For Everyone Elsegame. To pretend that the non-verbalised Can’t You Just Get Over It? attitude doesn’t get to me.

That night, a year ago, I tried my very best to explain it all to my mum. I tried as hard to explain to her as she tried to understand. But, unfortunately, the two didn’t meet.

It’s very hard to write this. I keep wondering if I’m being unfair, if I’m being too hard on my family. But, I guess, in short what happened during that conversation – even though I didn’t come to realise it until several months later – was that I understod that I simply can’t move on as long as I’m tied to my family the way I have been. That the chains can’t be replaced by loving ribbons until I find a way to heal. And that I can’t heal unless I allow myself to feel how I really feel, both about what actually happened – the abuse – and the way my family has (or rather hasn’t) dealt with it. And, probably most importantly, how I feel about them. Each one of them. Individually.

Because, the truth is that right now I can’t honestly say how I feel about them. I love them and I hate them and I care and I don’t care, and it keeps changing all the time. And I need time to figure it out. Figure out what they mean to me, and what I mean to them.

All of these things I was thinking about yesterday, sitting on the bed.
And it dawned on me that maybe this is it. Maybe this – me sitting on the bed, just feeling – means that I am coming closer to healing? That feeling sad, or angry, or scared, or confused – maybe that’s a sign that my journey back to myself has finally begun.

I have no illusions. I don’t for a second think that dealing with my complicated feelings will be easy. I know that it will be damned hard work.

But – and I’ve said this more than once – I don’t think it’s meant to be easy. It’s meant to be worth it.

So, I leave you with a few lines from a song by Melissa Etheridge:

“..I will crawl through my past
Over stones, blood and glass
In the ruins

Reaching under the fence
As I try to make sense
In the ruins

But if I am to heal
I must first learn to feel
In the ruins..”

xx