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..]

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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..

Trauma Focused Counselling, Psychoanalytic Therapy & Bridging The Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx

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

The Beginning Of A Parallel Journey

My most beloved transitional object

My most beloved transitional object

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Be kind to your Selves,

xx

 

Long-Term Psychoanalytic Therapy & Short-Term Trauma Focused Counselling

I have been meaning to update my blog for a long time now, but blogging has had to take a step back in the midst of coping with what has felt like an ever-increasing onslaught of flashbacks. Still, here I am now, neatly posed in front [well, technically, behind] my computer and though I will more than likely have to make many stops to work my way out of flashbacks, I still wanted to write a little, just to keep you all in the loop as it were.

Firstly, I would like to apologise – or perhaps not so much apologise as acknowledge that my previous post was of a rather difficult-to-read nature. I know that some people found it a little too hard to cope with. And, at the same time, I have also had emails from people saying that they found it helpful in one way or another, and I suppose, at the end of the day, this blog, it is – as it states on the tin – an honesty focused blog, and does come with an explicit warning that it sometimes deals with difficult issues.

Now, moving on from that, you will be pleased to know that this post will be perhaps a little less difficult to stomach. I can’t guarantee that it will necessarily be joyful, but it won’t be leaving you with any particularly nasty mental images, I shouldn’t think.

So, what’s been going on in my life? Well, as mentioned above, there have been the flashbacks, and sometimes it really feels like that is ALL that there is, but, really, that’s not true, and I am hoping that – eventually, with plenty of hard work – I will get to a place where those will take a back seat.

As regular readers will know I am currently in twice weekly psychoanalytic therapy, and have been for nearly four years [thrice weekly, a lot of the time]. In fact, A.’s and my four year anniversary is coming up later this month. Perhaps time to crack open the champagne, or share a celebratory cigar ála Freud? But more than anything, I think, time to reflect.

People often ask me if my therapy helps, and what does A. say about all these flashbacks that I’m having, about self-harm, about feeling suicidal? And I find myself forever explaining that it’s not that type of therapy. It’s not the type of therapy in which A. and I sit and practice grounding techniques or where she advices me on what I should and shouldn’t do. It just isn’t. Psychoanalytic therapy isn’t a short term crisis action plan. But that is not the same as saying that my therapy isn’t helping. No, it doesn’t immediately offer relief from flashbacks or other psychological ills, but it helps in different ways. It helps me see things from different perspectives, it helps me develop self-awareness, it helps me understand why I sometimes react very differently to other people, it helps me see patterns in both my behaviour and in my way of thinking and relating. It helps me in a very broad way. This is not trauma focused therapy. We look at a lot more than ‘just’ the sexual abuse I experienced, we look at all different aspects of my life. It’s colour photography, as opposed to black and white, and I feel that it offers a bigger and more stable platform to stand on, when looking at all the various angles of being alive and being human. So, yes, therapy absolutely does help. It’s just that it is rather more complex than a plaster cast on a broken arm.

That said, the one thing that impacts my day-to-day life more than anything else is without a shadow of a doubt the flashbacks, the horrible experience of being made to relive the abuse again and again without warning. It’s a painful and uncontrollable mental bombardment which severely alters the way I live my life. Apart from, of course, being extremely emotionally exhausting (both the actual flashbacks and the aftermath of them – it’s simply not a case of OK, I’m out of the flashback, everything is fine now..) they also impact on a very practical level. Firstly, the unpredictability of when they [the flashbacks] are going to happen, means that it is very hard to relax. I don’t have easily identifiable triggers which give me warning that I might soon have a flashback, so, even when things are good, when I’m only having perhaps six or ten flashbacks in a day, I don’t know when they are going to happen, and so have to always be on the ready to deal with them. Secondly, when things are bad – like at the moment when I’m having anything between sixty and eighty flashbacks in a day – it leaves little time or energy to spare for doing other things. I can’t read, I can’t watch telly, because I’m constantly being interrupted by these flashbacks, and by the time I’ve come out of them and calmed down, I’ve forgotten what I was reading or what the storyline was. Also, having so many flashbacks makes venturing outside something to be avoided. It’s simply too hazardous, as I won’t notice traffic lights changing, I’ll keep walking while having them ending up getting lost, I’ll miss my stop on the tube etc etc. Even something so simple as making myself a cup of tea can become quite dangerous, as I discovered the other week; I was pouring out the water, had a flashback but kept pouring.. as a consequence the boiling water spilled onto my lap, and I got a burn on my thigh. So, even though the flashbacks are not psychotic; I do know where I am, it is like being in two places at once, it’s an altered state of awareness which affects daily life a lot more than people realise. I have to do a million different work-arounds just to get by, like being on the phone with someone whenever I’m out walking (so the person can help me notice if I have a flashback and tell me to stop walking), ask bus drivers and tube staff to make sure I get off at the right stop, meet friends in places that are easy for me to get to and generally meet at the station rather than at the cafe or restaurant we’re going to, to minimise the potential for getting lost on the way. Etc etc etc.

Because of this, I have decided that on top of my normal therapy with A. I am going to do some short-term specialised trauma-focused counselling, aimed at trying to reduce the number of flashbacks I have. I’ve talked to A. about it, and although it’s not the norm to see more than one therapist at any one time, it is something I really want to do. And I think that doing it this way, while I am still seeing A. will help me cope better with what can’t be anything but very painful trauma work. It’s one of those I don’t think it is meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be WORTH it sort of things. Because, if it helped reduce the frequency of the flashbacks even just a little, it would improve my life enormously.

So, although there is much to discuss, not least of all the reasons why I am chosing to do this work with someone other than A. [is it to protect her? is it to protect me? maybe fear of ruining our relationship? etc etc], for now, I am waiting with some trepidation to start this new (additional) type of counselling. So do stay tuned. Updates will be forthcoming once I actually start.

All the very best,

xx

A Little Death – An Entry About Loss And Grief

I cried last night. Real tears. Connected to real emotions.
It happened while I was writing my journal.
And it’s been a while since I’ve allowed that to happen.

I went to see a possible therapist yesterday afternoon for the first time. I’d only spoken to her very briefly on the phone before meeting with her and I had a few fears and worries before going to the meeting. I’m not going to go into detail about that, because it’s sort of beside the point, but, I did see this person. Some of my preconceptions appeared to be valid (though, that is not to say that my fears were realised), but there was also something about this person that I did sort of like.

Still, I left the session feeling quite down. So, when I got home I got out my journal and started writing. And what I realised was that the reason I felt down wasn’t only because I had been talking a lot about my background [which can be pretty emotional], but because it kind of dawned to me what a hugetask it will be for me to start over again. Not just the actual therapy, but meeting with a new person on that very intimate level. It is enormously hard work, and very very draining.

I don’t trust people easily. Especially in a situation where I’m meant to give a lot of myself; where the stakes are high. So, I test people. A lot. I’ve done it with every single therapist and counsellor I’ve ever worked with.
And most have failed in one way or another.
Not on a professional level, but on the Deemed Trustworthy By Me scale.

You see, in my mind counselling and therapy is about meeting another person. Or, maybe that’s not quite what I mean.. It’s about allowing yourself to be met by another person. And that doesn’t just happen. And it certainly can’t happen unless you truly trust that other person.

So, starting over with a new therapist is a mountainous task for me. I went through all those different stages of testing with D. last year – something that was further complicated by the fact that for the better part of my counselling with her I wasn’t sure how many more times I’d be able to see her. But, in the end she did pass. Meaning that I felt able to actually let her in.

But then counselling came to an end.
Needless to say, having finally reached that stage of trust and respect, that was a pretty painful experience. Or would have been, had I been able to let myself really feel the pain.

Up until recently I’ve been quite busy, getting used to all the general changes in my life, finding my place within the community I am now living in and so on, and that has, I suppose, acted as something of a buffer for any real feelings I might have had regarding the end of counselling, [which, in effect, is also the end of my relationship with D.], but yesterday, having seen this new person, and realising on a different level that I won’t be seeing D. again, well, it brought on a whole range of emotions.

I guess the best way to put it is that, although it may seem horribly blown out of proportion to someone who doesn’t know me, the loss of this very important person in my life, it’s something like dealing with a death. The way I see it you pretty much go through the same stages of grieving, the same cycle of emotions. And last night it hit home in a big way. And I cried.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this. Other than that for me writing is, and always has been, a way of making sense of what’s going on inside of me. It may well seem to other people that I am awarding this pseudo-loss too much significance. But, honestly, I don’t think I am. For me this is real. And it hurts.
And therefore it is valid.

xx

Stress, Random Thoughts & Specific Theories

Tomorrow is Friday. The first one back in the country since counselling finished at the end of December. And it does make a difference..

In the midst of dealing with the hang-over from spending Christmas in Sweden, packing up my stuff at the flat, trying to take it in that I won’t be living with Dev come next week, well, I reckon a session with D. would have been pretty perfect.
Someone who knows and understands the context of the thoughts flying around in my head, and who genuinely cares about what I do with them.

Don’t get me wrong, I am doing reasonably well. It’s just that I’m not entirely sure if that is because I’m holding back on more than I should, or because I simply haven’t begun processing all these things yet. Or maybe, just maybe, because I have actually become better at coping with things. Either way, a session with D. would quite possibly help me to at least understand which of the above guesses is more likely to be accurate. I’m not saying that it would necessarily change anything, but I do think that the clearer I am on what I’m actually dealing with, the better I can find the right balance, emotionally.

Apart from the above worries, I am also quite nervous about this new place I’m moving to. I mean, although I have lived in shared accommodation before this will be a completely new experience. Not only will I be living with people who I actually don’t know at all, but the whole set up is very different from what I have experienced before. I think it’s reasonable to assume that it will be quite a big change to deal with; house meetings with my house mates and two therapists three times a week – well, it’s not exactly the norm, is it? I expect I will struggle quite a lot to find my place in this new situation. Still, having said that, I do believe that it is the right place for me to be. I think that staying in a place where the focus is personal change/insight, and all the challenges that will present me with, I’m certain that I will gain a lot from it.

On to something different..
A book arrived in the post while a was away – Karen J. Maroda’s The Power of Countertransference – and now that I’ve finally been able to start reading it I’m finding it difficult to put it down for long enough to get any packing done.

Maroda’s take on analytic technique is one that I personally find very appealing. To a lay-person such as myself her ideas seem to make perfect sense.

I am, of course, well aware of the traditional stance in psychoanalytic thinking; that the therapist will hold back on his or her immediate thoughts and feelings, in order to allow the patient to use the therapist as a blank canvass and to not burden the patient with the feelings the he or she may have evoked in the therapist etc. This is, in essence, to avoid allowing the patient to repeat past habits and thereby reinforcing his or her set pathology. Maroda’s theory, on the other hand, is – and this is a very general and broad summary – that for real change to take place in a therapy situation the therapist must join the patient in the experience of regression, rather than merely observing it from a safe distance. In other words, the therapist needs to both be able and willing to give more of herself to the patient, so that not only the transference factor is being looked at in the sessions, but also the countertransference factor. This, naturally, means breaking off from the often authoritarian therapist-patient relationship that psychoanalytic thinking typically entails. Maroda highlights the fact that even Freud was not unknown to alter his theories when he found that his experiments didn’t pan out the way he had expected, and that as society has undergone such tremendous change in the past several decades since Freud first introduced his theories to the world, so too psychoanalytic technique needs to change. Needless to say, when Maroda’s book was first published back in 1990 it caused something of a stir amongst the practitioners in this particular field. She was not at all the first to point to what to me seem like obvious flaws in the ‘blank canvas’-approach, however, up until then any attempt to bring about change had been fairly limited and there was no structured concept, such as the one Maroda presents in her book.

Anyway, if you happen to have a bit of spare time, I’d recommend this book. It’s probably one of the most accessible and readable texts around on practical implementation of counter-transference as an active part in the therapist-patient relationship, and a very interesting one at that!

xx

Strength And Determination – An Entry About Finding Your Own Way

“..I’ve got the greatest admiration for the way that you got through it. Couldn’t ask nobody else to do it better than you do it. Stay you -. That’s the toughest thing to do..”

I just got home from my last session of counselling with D. and I put some music on. The above lines are from the first song that started playing, and they seem fitting, somehow. So much of my counselling has been about exactly that; finding a way to stay me.

A friend of mine back home has quoted me those lines on numerous occasions throughout this year. In a way it’s become our song. The soundtrack of our friendship. And I think it is very slowly beginning to sink in that people do see something in me to which I myself have been blind to for a very long time; my ability to keep fighting. That inner strength and determination to carry on, despite everything I’ve been through. That I actually have all the tools needed to look after myself well enough to take charge of my own life.

My last session went well. It was a very good ending to what has been a very good round of counselling. I do think that it’s a real shame that I’m not able to carry on seeing D. because I think that the working relationship we have formed would have allowed me to go even further than I have, and I am very sad that it has had to come to an end. Also I will miss D. A lot. Not just the fact that she has offered a safe and stable place for me to talk and to grow, but her as a person. I will miss her way of responding to me. Especially those sentences starting with “Come on, S!” (as in “Don’t bullshit me – you can give me a better answer to me than that!”), and priceless comments like “You have no idea of the piss-offedness I’d feel if you went and killed yourself!”

But, more than anything, I will miss the calm encouragement she has given me week on week, often not even expressed in words, but in the silence between them, somehow. The pause and the look following whatever she has just said. That feeling of her genuinely believing in me. I will miss that something terrible. I feel almost tearful about it now, actually. But that’s ok. Actually, it’s more an ok. It’s both positive and natural to feel this way at the end of something good. And sadness isn’t the only thing I’m feeling. I also I feel really proud of myself for the work I have done in these eight months of counselling. I know that I still have a long way left to go – I have a whole life ahead of me, in fact! But I have made a pretty impressive start, I reckon. Comparing the way I look at myself and my life now to how I saw it at the beginning of this year.. It’s so different it seems almost unreal. And I feel so much better for it.

I went for hot chocolate with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, a friend who has very much been along for the ride this year, and we were talking about how much I’ve achieved. And in the middle of it all it suddenly dawned on me: I could have died. I could have not been sitting there, sharing a lovely, intelligent conversation with someone for whom I have tremendous respect. And that really hit hard.

Although my view on life changed drastically already back in April, I don’t think I had really allowed myself to fully understand how very close I came to dying. How very near I got to cheating myself of my own future. How many precious moments I could have missed out on.

This year I have really found out who my true friends are. The ones who will be there not just when times are good, but who will see you through the storm as well. And I am enormously thankful for them. Some friends I have known for a long long time, others are people I’ve only got to know this year. But they are all incredibly important to me. I would name names, but in the interest of relative anonymity I won’t. I just trust it that I have been a good enough friend back for them to know who they are.

So, even though life can, and doubtlessly will, be hard – it goes on. And so do I. With a little help from my friends.

xx

Ps. The lyrics at the top are from the song Stay You by Wood.

Lyrics from Stay You © Wood

Changes – An Entry About Moving On

I really shouldn’t be writing this entry right now. I have a million and five other things that I should prioritise. But, me being me, I put my writing before pretty much anything else. That’s just how I am.

I’m a bit stressed out at the moment. To say the least. Dev is off to spend Christmas with his brother early tomorrow morning, so today is technically the last day we live together. And although I know that the decision to split is the right one, well, it’s hard to not become a bit sentimental looking back at the five years we’ve shared. We’ve been through so much together. And I will really miss seeing him on a daily basis. I know, I can always pop in and visit him at the flat every once in a while, but it won’t be the same, will it?

Had a Christmas card from my father the other day. It was really sweet what he had written, so it really means a lot to me. I texted him back to let him know that. At the same time, there are a lot of things that remain unsaid, and I think that in order for us to be able to move on it’s important that we find a way to communicate with one another. So I wrote an email to him, trying to be as honest as I could about my thoughts on our relationship and our family as a whole. It was quite similar to a letter I wrote my mother some time ago, and equally difficult to write. I can’t help but to worry that they won’t understand that I’m not writing in order to hurt them, but because I’ve come to a point where it’s important that I get to say things I may never have said before. As I said earlier; I think it’s our best bet to be able to find a way back to one another. Even if it’s painful while we’re still getting used to it..

Dreaded last session with D. tomorrow. No thoughts of not going, though. Again, it’s one of those things I simply have to do to be able to move on. Saying a proper goodbye. So that’s my mission for tomorrow. That, and not crashing completely once I get home after.

Had a letter in the post today, from the mother of the twins I used to nanny. Haven’t opened it yet, but I’m pretty sure what it is. See, ever since I stopped working for them (although in many ways, it feels wrong to use the term ‘working’, since I really was welcomed as a part of their family) I’ve had a calendar from them at Christmas. And not just any calendar, but one with photographs of the kids taken throughout the year. My kind of gift! It’s always lovely to see how they’ve changed each year; how they are becoming more and more grown up with every passing year. They were always two seriously funky kids – despite having had a nanny who’s absolutely bonkers – and it’s just wonderful to see how they are growing into these amazing, intelligent and independent people. Nothing could make me more proud! I am in touch with most of the kids I’ve nannied throughout the years, and it’s the best feeling in the world to see and hear from them years later, realising that they’ve turned into young adults. It’s very very special.

Flying out to Sweden early Saturday morning. I’m really looking forward to it. Nervous as anything. But I’m sure it’ll be ok. I still don’t know whether or not I will see mother. A big part of me really wants to. It’s her birthday when I’m over there, and I’d just like to be able to wish her a happy birthday. So, I was thinking I might ring her then. Communication has to start somewhere.. And change doesn’t have to happen in one go. It’s ok for it to happen slowly. As slowly as it needs to.

xx

PS. For those of you who care; it’s Kylie Sunshine’s birthday today. :)

Nail Art & Goodbyes

I’m not a girly-girl. Not really. I don’t think I ever was. I think altogether my make-up kit consists of one mascara and one lip gloss. Neither of which is in regular use. Having said that I do like doing my nail. It’s also something I do when I am feeling a bit too stressed out about something. I think it’s that balance between having to concentrate enough to be able to not think about anything else, and not being too demanding. The stress level goes up, and out comes my big bag of nail polishes.

At the moment my stress level is pretty manageable. Yes, there are a lot of things going on, but, I think I’m handling it fairly well. Still, I did go slightly nuts the other week and ordered myself this nail art set, and now I can’t help but to wonder if perhaps that is a sign that I am under more stress than I care to admit.

As you know Dev and I split up some time ago, but for a lot of complex reasons we have still been living together. But that’s coming to an end reasonably soon. I applied to go into supported accommodation, and last week I was told that they had decided to offer me a place. So, I’ll be moving at the beginning of January. It’s not very far from where I live now – in fact it’s ridiculously close – but it will be a huge change. Going from sharing a brand spanking new flat in a lovely complex with all mod cons, including a 24-hour concierge service, to a shared Victorian house filled with people who also struggle from emotional difficulties – well, it’s bound to take some getting used to. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly happy that I’ve been offered a place – but it will be a real challenge adjusting to living there.

Dev is going abroad next week, the day before I head back home for the holidays – and so these next few days are basically the last we will be living together, since although Dev is coming back for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s, he leaves again before I return. So that’s one thing that’s happening.

Tomorrow is my second to last session of counselling with D. I know I go on about it, but really, this is my blog, and it is a big deal for me. As I’ve said before, I’m not very good with endings, so this makes me quite nervous. Having said that, I am working on it – getting better at saying goodbye to people. I remember talking to P. at The Maytree just before leaving there, and she asked me if I’d be able to look her in the eye and say goodbye. And I couldn’t.

There was just something inside me that made it impossible to do. It’s like letting someone get inside the walls I’ve put up to protect myself. And that’s a hard thing to do.

I don’t think I’m the only one to be like that, though. I think it’s fairly common to find it difficult to say a proper goodbye. But, as I said, I’m working on it. Both with D. and with Dev.

Only a little over a week before going home now. And I am really really looking forward to it. I have no idea what it will be like, but I’m definitely excited about going. I was texting back and forth with my youngest sister today, and one thing we talked about doing is reading aloud from a book called Goodnight, Mister Tom (by Michelle Magorian). It’s a book I’ve probably read fifty times – in fact it was one of the very first books I ever read in English, back when I was nine or ten – and I still love it. So I reckon that will be a really nice thing to do. Snuggle up with lots of blankets and read to each other.

Anyway, little sis just came Elaine (online, Elaine – what’s the difference?) so I’m going to sign off now and talk to her for a bit.

Be good – I have a hotline to Father Christmas and I’m not afraid to use it!

xx