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

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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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A Fork In The Road – Choosing A Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx

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

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

Being The Perfect Therapy Client

I know this is a bit like the London double-deckers; for a long time there’s not a single bus, and then there are five all at once. The Heinz Ketchup effect.. But, you see, one of my readers commented on the post I uploaded last night, and in responding to his comment I realised that it could well be turned into a blog post in its own right, so here I am again, updating my blog merely hours after my last offering. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot and all that.. I hope you don’t mind.

Anyhow..
The comment was in reference to my mentioning that five years ago, following an initial psychological assessment, I was deemed to be too high risk and unsuitable for psychotherapy, and the commenter said that “From the posts I’ve read by you, you certainly seem like the sort of patient that therapists are delighted to have.” My initial reaction was to feel flattered by this comment, and I instantly thought that I rather agree, biased as I am; I do think I make a good client. I have a bit of a chequered past, quite a few things in my baggage – obvious material to work with so to speak – and I am also reasonably self-aware, rather analytically minded and fairly articulate. Not a bad prospect for a psychotherapist.

Then again, I am no different to any other psychotherapy client; I think we all want to see ourselves as good clients – interesting, intelligent people – who therapists are happy to work with. And we all wish to be the favourite client, the one our therapist is really looking forward to seeing, because we challenge them just the right amount without being burdensome or draining. [If you’re in therapy yourself, I’m sure you will know what I mean.]

Yet, having been turned down by the NHS for therapy I really struggled to find someone who was willing to take me on. Naturally I had to give up on the idea of getting free therapy on the NHS, but I figured that outside of The Service there had to be plenty of privately practicing therapists who would want to work with me.

In reality it took me quite a few months to find a therapist. I had to go to many ‘first appointments’ and found myself being repeatedly rejected. Many of the therapists I saw, said exactly what the NHS assessor had said; that I was simply too high risk, what with my recent serious suicide attempt and my habit of using self-harm as a coping strategy. And I can understand that. I imagine it can be quite challenging – scary even – to work with, and in a sense – be responsible for – a client who may well choose to down a litre of anti-freeze rather than turn up to session. Naturally, not everyone will be up for that. But, at the same time, the way I always saw it – and I would always make this clear at assessments – I’ve always seen therapy as the way forward for me, the thing which will eventually help me manage my past in a more positive way, and also – while I have many times become depressed while in therapy, I’ve never made an attempt to end my life when I’ve been in therapy or had counselling. That has only ever happened when I’ve not had a place to take my thoughts and emotions, when I’ve felt I’ve not been able to share what’s going on for me.

The other reason given to me, when therapists declined taking me on, was that they felt they simply didn’t have the experience they needed to be able to work with someone with such a complex background. There are quite a few aspects – issues, if you will – to work on; I was adopted, so a high potential for major attachment and abandonment issues and possible identity crises. I was sexually abused and suffer from intense flashbacks of this, and so more than one therapist said that I should probably look for someone who specialised in this area, perhaps a therapist trained in EMDR or TF-CBT. I have one parent who is gay, I have another parent who has struggled a lot with the rollercoaster that is bi-polar disorder. So lots of different things to work on in therapy, perhaps too many, for some.

I also suspect, although I don’t know this for sure, that I probably came across as someone who might be a bit of a handful to manage in session, because I happen to be ridiculously well read on the theory of psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy, which was also what I wanted to do. I am not someone who will hold back on commenting if I feel that the therapist is ‘text booking’ me. And also, there is a definite barrier to get through; the fact that I often, knowingly or unknowingly, intellectualise and theorise in order to not have to deal with actual emotions. Hiding behind my theoretic understanding of things, so as to not really have to deal with anything. I don’t do it so much anymore – in fact, these days I tell myself off if I notice that I am slipping back into this pattern – but five years ago, that was certainly something I did a lot.

In the end, having tried for a good few months to find myself a therapist and failed, I asked the house therapists in the therapeutic community I had recently moved in to, to set me up with one of their trainees, because I felt I would never be able to get anyone to take me on on my own.

Long-term readers of this blog with remember that this turned out to not have been a great idea, as the person who was ‘assigned to me’ wasn’t a particularly good match for me and the chemistry just wasn’t there. Having thought it through, I ultimately decided to terminate with her, as I felt that I could probably carry on seeing her for years and still never get what I wanted from our work together. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but, I always felt it was the right decision for me. I’m sure B. – my previous therapist – is a great therapist; she just wasn’t the right one for me.

As it turned out, I actually managed to find a therapist that seemed a good fit for me before I had even let B. know for sure that I was going to move on. Almost as if by magic, I had completely by chance contacted two different therapy organisations, both of which A. happened to be affiliated with, and already the first time I spoke to her on the phone, I felt she could be the right person for me to be doing this very important work with. Going for my first initial appointment with her I was nervous, but also felt decidedly positive. I had a good feeling about it.

I have since asked A. how come she decided to take me on – thinking about the many people who had turned me down – and, although she slightly dodged the question in her funny little way, she did say that she never considered not taking me on. I am still not entirely sure why that was, but maybe she saw it somewhat similarly to how I saw it; I seemed like someone she could work well enough with me to give me a chance.

We’ve certainly had our moments over the years, A. and I, and I know that I can definitely be more than just a little challenging at times, and not always in a nice way, but I do think that we speak similar enough languages to be able to communicate well and to work things through. I also know that A. can stand up to me, and that she won’t be cornered or pushed around by my intellectualisations or red herrings, something I really appreciate. In fact, only the other session, she was challenging me and I commented that she’s asking very difficult questions, to which she responded Good! and we exchanged a quick smile across the room.
And I think that illustrates our relationship quite well.

I don’t know if I really am that magic Favourite Client, and by now that doesn’t even seem all that important anymore, but I do feel that we have a decent enough relationship that I could be.

And that’s enough.

xx

When You Have No Voice – Making A Decision To Communicate

It’s been a long time, I know, but I’ll try to put you all back in the picture, as I know you will have all been eagerly awaiting my next update. [What? No?]

In the last few weeks I have been dealing with one of those much dreaded periods of flashbacks, and things have often felt completely and utterly hopeless. The flashbacks have by no means gone, but there have been a few days every once in a while when there have been fewer, and I’ve been able to find at least a little breathing space in between. When things are bad, that’s the time to focus on small blessings.

At the beginning of last week I had to go into hospital for a whole battery of tests and examinations. Part of these was a gynaecological exam, which for me is essentially an equivalent to psychological torture through physical means. I always try to prepare whoever is doing the exam by explaining that I come from a background of having been sexually abused as a child, and that these exams are pretty much garanteed to trigger off flashbacks; in short that they may need to brace themselves for my emotional response. They then usually say something along the lines of “Don’t worry, darling, I’ve seen it all before”, which is of course very kind and much appreciated, but it generally tends to become apparent that this is not really the case. When they’re faced with the sobbing heap these exams turn me into, it’s often clear that I react worse than most people they’ve examined. This then spirals into this odd cycle of them feeling sorry for me, and me feeling sorry for them having to carry out the exam on me..

So, not nice at all.

This particular nurse was absolutely fantastic, though, I have to say. It was very obvious that she was affected by my reaction to what she was doing, but because she was very open about that, I found that somehow reassuring and it in many ways it helped bring me out of the flashbacks and back into the here and now where we both were.

Concurrent with the flashbacks and general depression I have this week come down with some seriously nasty bug. This bug, by the way, is completely unrelated to the hospital thing, unless I have really lucked out and managed to contract MRSA while I was there..

At first I thought it was just hay fever, as this is the season when I usually have to stay indoors with my inhaler close to hand at all times. Had a very painful throat – not sore – painful, something I don’t usually get with my hay fever, but initially I just assumed that my body had decided to take my allergies to the next level. As it turns out this wasn’t it. Came down with a 39C temperature [that’s 102F, if you’re so inclined] in the middle of the week, and it’s been going ever since. So, what with the painful throat and the fever I’ve essentially had to be on paracetamol non-stop. It’s not great, Ibuprofen tends to be more effective, but for various reasons I am currently banned from taking that particular pain reliever, so there you go.

Feeling miserable on all levels is not a great place to exist and things have been unbelievably difficult. I know my last entry was pretty dire, and from there I suppose you could say things went south. Having no therapy has been really challenging, it feels like years until A. returns from maternity leave. But, I am still around, still fighting – even if the evidence of this has not been posted on my blog.

This Friday I had been invited to two sedarim – the special meal eaten by Jews on the first night of Pesach, but instead I spent the evening in bed, fighting flashbacks and this blasted bug. Last night I had booked a place at the communal 2nd night seder at my shul together with many of my friends. I did make it there, in fact even went for a pre-seder drink with one of my friends, but didn’t make it through the meal. Was feeling incredibly rough and then began having flashbacks, and I had to make the decision that I needed to make sure I could make it home safely before things got even worse. Hated having to leave, but as it turns out it was probably a wise choice.

This morning I woke up having absolutely no voice.

I have lost my voice in the past, but never quite this completely, and it’s kind of an interesting thing; the second you discover you have no voice [in my case when I began recording a voice message for my sister] you realise how much you rely on it.

I don’t usually use my phone or computer on Shabbat or during religious festivals. This is not so much because it’s biblically and/or rabbinically decreed that one should not use iPads or Blackberrys during festivals, as much as – being a modern reform Jew – I’ve made the informed decision that for me stepping away from all my techie gadgets and disconnecting for a bit makes those times different to other times. I am normally contactable at any given moment, day or night, be it through texts, Facebook updates or tweets, and so I like to make Shabbat and festivals different and special to other days, through unplugging in this way. Admittedly, most of my friends think this is completely bonkers, but hey, it’s just the way I roll.

However, since that accidental-on-purpose over-dose the other week, I decided that it’s actually a lot more life-embracing to temporarily break that self-imposed rule than to keep it. Which is why you are seeing this update today, during a week I would normally steer clear of modern technology.

To help me through particularly rough patches over these past few weeks I have often sought support over the telephone from my sisters, my friends and the Samaritans, regardless of whether or not this has been on Shabbat. Being able to talk about what’s going on, both physically and psychologically, makes me feel less like I’m on my own in this.

So, as you can imagine, waking up this morning, with no voice at all, has come as a bit of a shock, and has left me feeling very vulnerable. Which is why I’m sitting here now, writing this..

I guess that even when you haven’t got an audible voice, you can still find ways of making yourself heard.

Do be kind to yourselves,

xx

Flashbacks, Therapy & Change – An Entry About Finding My Way Back To Life

I had an email from someone who has clearly been following my blog for some time the other day. He [or she – could be a she] asked “What happened to your real blog? The one about your life? I mean it’s interesting to read about Reform Judaism and all that, but I kind of miss the real updates. Like, what happened after you left Drayton Park? How have you been doing? What’s happening with your therapy?”

Now, firstly, I would like to point out that to me the posts about Judaism, and my conversion in particular, are every bit as real as any of my other updates. Being Jewish is part of who I am, and a big part, at that. But, I do take the emailer’s point: it has been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on with me. And it’s not by chance. I’ve simply needed some time to reflect without sharing, rather than reflecting while sharing, if that makes sense.

About two months have passed since I left the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. And it’s taken me all this time to slowly, slowly get back to myself. In fact I’m still not there yet. I still have days that are very very difficult, have days when I just don’t make it out of bed at all. But I also have days when things seem a little bit better.

The flashbacks still come, but usually it’s a case of having maybe one flashback every few days, and as horrible as it is to have them, it doesn’t compare with the torrential flashbacks I was suffering from a few months back. They still disrupt my life, still make me feel like absolute crap, because being thrust back into an abuse situation without warning is just never going to be a pleasant experience, but on some level they are manageable in the sense that there is enough space between them to be able to look at them and think about why they are happening.

Mostly, they tend to be about things I remember happening, and I think the key in these flashbacks lie within the feelings they evoke, not necessarily the content. I try to allow those feelings to surface, and to – hard as it can be – accept that there is a lot of fear and shame. My conscious memory of the abuse, particularly the abuse my brother subjected me to, doesn’t really conjure up images of myself as a very small, powerless and frightened little girl, but through the flashbacks I can tell that I must have been, even if I at the time was too cut off from my own emotions to recognise this. So I guess what I am doing now is to acknowledge this side of me, this truth which I have kept under wraps for a long long time. To allow Little S space to truly exist.

Therapy is going well, feels helpful. It’s my space to just think out loud. That said, the other session I talked about how when I really get going, when I feel I’m on to something, I often drift off – almost as if I forget that I’m supposed to share my thought process along the way. I just grow silent and still and think inside my head, and I’m sure this must be frustrating for A. at times, but I guess it’s just the way I work. Also, the fact that I am aware of it, that I’ve been able to talk to A. about this tendency to just go quiet, means that I can work on it. And it’s given me the opportunity to talk about why I think I do this, what it is I find so frightening about sharing thoughts that aren’t fully formed, what it is I might be trying to protect or prevent from happening, through leaving A. [and others] out.

While I was at Drayton Park, A. told me something I already knew, but had not wanted to think about; she’s pregnant. I knew this even before going home this summer, but because A. hadn’t said anything about it, I essentially buried it, chose not to think about it. But now that it’s out in the open, well, naturally, it has an immediate effect on my therapy, both in the here and now; the themes that come up in my sessions, and the more practical side to it: that there will be a major break in my therapy in a not too distant future.

There is no getting away from it: there are absolutely days when it is really really hard to come to session and see A. sitting there looking oh-so-very-pregnant, when all I’ve ever wanted for myself is to have a child, feeling very aware that time is slipping away from me and my worst fear; that I may never get to be a mother, forms an icy shell around my heart. There are moments when I feel insanely jealous of her, her baby, her life. But there are also times when I feel genuinely through-and-through happy for her, excited about this amazing little miracle growing inside of her, and noticing subtle changes in the way she responds to the things I talk about – a soft gentleness in her tone, especially when I talk about that frightened little child I was back then.

So, there is progress in my therapy and in my life in general. Tiny tiny steps forward, towards a better understanding of myself, of who I am, of how I relate to others, and how others relate to me. And I feel I’m on the right track. Feel I’m getting somewhere.

But it’s not easy.

And it isn’t over.

There is much to be done.

Be kind to yourselves,

xx

A tiny musical gem; Janet Devlin singing Adele’s Someone Like You

Expectations, Failure & Second Chances

I’m back . Staying at Dev’s. In need of an in-between place, I suppose.
I’ve not done much since getting back, feeling a lot lower than I had expected; it usually takes a while before this happens.
Before the Post-Holiday Stress Disorder rears its ugly little head.

I try to watch things on iPlayer but can’t concentrate, try to read but can’t focus.

I’m feeling very disappointed in myself. Feel I should have been able to do more with my time at home. Feel I ought to have been braver, ought to have got further on my journey.

I’m trying to not be too hard on myself, but it’s hard. After all, taking things out on myself is what I do best. I’ve not yet turned to self-harm, but I feel I’m fighting a loosing battle on that front. Like it’s a question of when rather than if. Oh, maybe that’s not true. I might be able to resist. But, it doesn’t feel good being me right now.

I could have predicted this outcome before I went. In fact A. and I talked about it in the final session before the break: how I keep choosing to not have that very difficult conversation with my family, how – in the immediate moment – it feels like the easier option, but almost without fail means I’ll ultimately turn it back on myself, this sense of failure..

I’ve been here before. I recognise that there is a pattern to my choices and the way I deal with them. Yet I can’t seem to make a different choice. Time and time again I let myself down.

I am trying to help myself, I am. I don’t want to take three steps back in order to move at all. I really don’t. But it’s hard.

Suffered from a lot of flashbacks when I was at home. Especially at night, meaning I didn’t manage to get much sleep. And I guess that ate into my ability to face things head on. I’m not talking about wanting to cause trouble for my family, I’m not interested in playing the blame game – all I wanted to do was to find a way to talk openly and honestly about all those things we as a family – myself included – have avoided talking about. Have refused to acknowledge.

I had hoped that this time I’d be able to be able to do it. To open up a dialogue with my family. Nothing too big, just a tiny little line of communication.

But I couldn’t. And here I am now, feeling pretty crap about myself.

Oh well, life goes on.
At some point or other I’ll get another chance to do what I couldn’t this time.
Life lessons are repeated until they are learned and we always get a second chance to get it right.

And one of these days I will.
Get it right.

xx

I Am The Only One – The Therapeutic Relationship

Every client wants to live in the belief that he or she is the only client. Most clients realise that this is not the case, yet, somehow manage to hold on to the feeling of being the only one. It’s a very natural echo of how we as children wanted to have our parents’ full attention, to not have to share them with anyone, to be the sole centre of attention.

The therapeutic relationship is unique in the way it often allows the client to, if not completely then at least to rather a large degree, own the time, to not have to share, to be selfish in that childish way we were allowed to be as babies. For those magic 50 minutes, the time and the space – even the therapist – exists solely for you.

So what happens when that is threatened? When your space is invaded, when it becomes clear that you are not the only one? Well, usually very little, because of that knowledge at the back of your head that, realistically, you are not the only one, that you are – in fact – one of many. We may not like it, but we can deal with it. In much the same way that we learned to accept the introduction of younger siblings, or other people encroaching on our only/youngest child identity, we simply roll with the punches and adapt to this new reality.

Most of the time this is not a problem. Provided that we still feel loved by our parents, still feel important to them, we simply adjust, make way for different methods of getting what we need from them. To some degree we may even outgrow the need to be the only one.

But there are times when the intrusion is a bit too fast, a bit too invasive.

Like today.

On my way to see A. I noticed a young man walking quickly past me. I recognised him as someone who used see A., but who I was reasonably sure was no longer seeing her. The reason I recognised him was that there have been a few occasions on a Friday when I’ve arrived for session, only to find that this particular client has not yet left and I ended up having to wait outside for A. to find a way to convince him that he really has to go.

Immediately my brain started trying to work out what was going on, and having grown up with a father working in the field I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the notion of clients – past and present – having a need to catch a glimpse of their therapist’s private self and family life. [In fact there is one of my father’s ex-client who still – over 10 years after my father moved out – walks slowly past our house, always stopping by our letterbox to give it a light tap, looking longingly at us if we happen to be out in the garden..]

It’s a natural curiosity, something most of us experience at one point or another during the course of therapy. Therapy is generally such a one-sided relationship in terms of overt self-disclosure that it’s only to be expected that we’ll have some curiosity regarding our therapists. Anyone who claims to not have this absolutely normal interest in their therapist I’d say was either lying or not genuinely engaged in the therapeutic process. And while most of us won’t keep going by our ex-therapist’s house ten years after they’ve moved, I’d be surprised if not most of us have at least googled our therapist. I know I have.

So, even before I got to A.’s house I had something of an inkling of what might be going on. As it turns out I was right. When I arrived this person was standing on the doorstep, ringing the bell repeatedly, talking through the letter box.

This is where it got tricky for me. I knew it was time for me to go in, yet at the same time I didn’t really want to go up to the door and knock with an ex-client standing on the doorstep, thinking it would put A. in a very awkward position. So for a little while I hung back.

I won’t go into detail of what happened next, but things escalated at the door and it became obviously that this person was not going to leave unless made to leave. A few times he walked back to me, partly apologising to me for encroaching on my time, but mainly just being intent on telling me his side of the story, of why he needed to see A. and why she was wrong to not let him in. I decided to not engage, stood firm, telling him that while I appreciated that he was having a difficult time I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation with him.

Needless to say, once I did make it in to session it was obvious what the session would be about. It would have been ridiculous to ignore what had just happened, as both A. and I had got caught up in it, and naturally had feelings about it. I did my best to talk about it, to say how it made me feel, how it had really taken me back to similar situations when I was younger, but in the end I had to stop and acknowledge that it felt really weird to be talking only about me, feeling very aware that this incident had also had an effect on A., who looked visibly shaken.

This is one of the trickiest things about the one-sidedness of psychotherapy; that the session is there for you only, to talk about your feelings, your experiences. As I wrote earlier, normally this is what makes the relationship unique and special, and it feels good to have this space where it’s all about you. But, when things like this happens, it can also serve to make you feel that you aren’t allowed to “check in” with the therapist, to ask how they are feeling.

As humans it’s perfectly natural to want to offer something to one another by way of support, especially when something like this happens.

The therapeutic dyad is first and foremost a relationship, and I’m sure that most people who have ever been in therapy will agree with me when I say that the relationship you have with your therapist often over-shadows other relationships in your life. You’re pretty heavily invested in it, and because of that you end up having very strong feelings about the therapist. The therapist’s opinions weigh heavily, their concern for you and their ability to empathise with you is like balm for old scars. And, of course, the nature of the relationship means that you care about them. Not just about their opinions or the support they offer you, but you care about them. Just like you would in any other relationship you’ve put a lot into.

So, to not be allowed to offer support can feel very very difficult.

Anyway, I think I need to stop here. Pre-Shabbat prep to do, and I’m off to one of my rabbis for dinner in a while..

Be good to yourselves.

Love, light and peace,

xx

Unconscious Communication

Anxiety levels soaring, I’m trying to control it the best way I know how; by reading. Thankfully a book arrived in the post on Friday, one which I have been waiting for for over a year. (Yes – over a year.. It was meant to be released in Jan 2009, but wasn’t until just recently).

Regular readers of this blog will already be aware of my love of books of all sorts, but in particular books on therapy and/or psychology related topics. The book I’m currently reading is Dr Karen Maroda‘s most recent offering; Psychodynamic Techniques. I’m about a third of the way through this book, and I have to say, I’m liking it. It should probably be noted that this volume is primarily aimed at neophyte therapists starting out, and touches on issues like the use of self-disclosure in the therapeutic relationship, therapeutic and non-therapeutic regression and how erotic feelings can either help or hinder the process.

Having previously read Dr Maroda’s books “The Power of Countertransference” and “Seduction, Surrender & Transformation” (see links to the right and previous blog entries) I notice that this book is written in the same ultra-accessible style, with many case studies to illustrate the theory in a real in treatment situation.

In my most recent session with A. she made the comment that (in contrast to other situations in my life) I seem to feel that in therapy I perceive her as being the one holding all the power. I responded that I don’t entirely agree with that statement, but that, although I choose what to talk about and what to withhold, I am not the only person in that room, and that just as she plays off me, so I play off her; that she brings something to each session through being who she is. I don’t think I managed to quite verbalise what I meant, but reading Maroda’s chapter on mutuality and collaboration in the therapeutic dyad, I found something that much better expresses what it was that I was trying to say: both therapist and client will inevitably repeat past patterns (within the therapeutic relationship), and so, even though the focus of treatment is (as it should be) on me and my progress, A. does have a certain directional power in the way she responds to me and how she either encourages or discourages me to delve deeper into certain areas. Naturally, this is not necessarily a conscious choice and often not expressed verbally, but it nonetheless plays a part in how the therapy develops. I suppose what I am trying to get at is that far beyond our conscious and surface choices our respective unconscious are also in some way connecting, communicating; in short are aware of what the other is experiencing in the situation. Naturally not in a psychic I-know-what-you’re-thinkings ort of way, but on a more subtle level of knowing when we’re hitting the mark and when we’re not.

Anyway, must end this here. Time to (hopefully) watch Canada trash USA in the men’s ice-hockey final.

All the very best and more,

xx

Additional comment: YEEEEEAAAAAAHHH! Go Canada, go!

Library, Community and Therapy – An Entry About Feeling Safe

I am at the library. I’m enjoying it. It’s my safe place, my home away from home – the place I go to when things get too much. I like the semi-calm, the not-quite-quietness of this place. It’s a good place to be; I can think clearly here. I can feel freely.

I’ve only just finished a mini-essay on the topic of happiness, which seems ironic, considering that I am in fact not especially happy at the moment. Oh, there is no need to panic, I’m by no means in a let’s drink a litre of anti-freeze kind of mood. But I am feeling distinctly low.

As you probably know by now I live in a therapeutic community. Only at the moment it seems it is neither particularly therapeutic, nor much of a community. The latter is, naturally, in part down to me. I’m a member of this little household, and as such it is within my power to make this place more of a real community. Only my heart’s not really in it. I’m not all that interested in communal living. I like my independence, I don’t want to go on group shopping trips, nor do I feel a need to have all my meals with my house mates. This is – I feel obliged to point out – in no way a reflection on my house mates, but merely a statement about myself and where I’m at.

The second part [or the first, depending on how you look at it] – the bit about being therapeutic – well – that’s a little more complex. Or at least it feels like it’s somewhat more out of my hands at the moment. Yes, I do have good conversations with, hm, one of my house mates every now and then, and for that I am thankful. But, what I mean when I say that there is very little in the house that is therapeutic, I mean that the thrice-weekly house meetings have become something of a silent battleground. And, it’s not about my house mates, but, rather, about the two house therapists. Perhaps not solely, but certainly to some quite significant degree. At the moment there is an atmosphere in the house meetings which makes it almost impossible to have an open and honest multi-way conversation.

There have been a few incidents lately where the response to expressed emotions have been less than helpful, and in some instances (in my view) directly damaging. The comments from one or both house therapists have sometimes been so exceptionally defensive or dismissive that it appears to have killed off any desire to risk sharing anything even remotely personal in the meetings. In short, it doesn’t feel like a safe place to share things that really matter, because there is no knowing whether or not what you say will be heard with any degree of respect, or if it will merely be shot down.

There are several things going on in my life that I really ought to share in the house meetings – and I’m guessing this may be true for my house mates, too – but I choose not to, because I feel too afraid of what the response may be.

Naturally, therapist or not, a person is a person, and no one can be expected to respond in the right way all the time, but – on the other hand – I suppose my view is that there are some things that any person, therapist or not, ought to be able to offer another person. Respect is one of them. A willingness to listen, to really hear the other person, is another.

So, these two things; that I might not really be the right type of person to live in a community, and feeling that the meetings have become pointless and infertile battleground, makes me wonder if, perhaps, it is time for me to move on. Again, something I should probably be discussing in the meetings, but feel unable to.

Thankfully individual therapy is going really well. Damn hard work at times, but there has been some progress. Like I’ve said many times: I don’t think it’s meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be worth it. And I believe that I have now got to a point in my relationship with A. where I feel that I can begin to trust her. To let her in a little more than before, perhaps – provided I can find the courage within to do so.

The other week I made A. laugh, and, silly as it may seem, that really was the moment when I felt that Yup, this is the right person for me to work with. I only wish there wasn’t so much time between sessions. When the meetings are good, and I can get something from them, then twice-weekly sessions with A. is just about right, but since they aren’t – well, I do feel that I need something more.

I feel that I need to just talk and talk and talk. Or, rather, I need to be heard and heard and heard. And I need a safe place where that can happen. An emotional sanctuary, a library of sorts.

xx