I don’t know what caused me to freak out just before I went in to my session on Monday. I was fine, and then I wasn’t fine. I was attacked with nerves and agitation and cold clammy hands. (Sympathetic nervous system activated.)
Before going in, I took some time to try and discharge the excess hyped-up energy I was feeling by walking/pacing and trying to control my breathing. I made myself take note of my surroundings in an attempt at grounding/mindfulness. (Tree, starry sky, moon, people, building, lights, cars,)
Did it help? Not much, but I tried and that’s the main thing I suppose.
I sat down.
Sienna how I was and out of pure habit I said I was “alright.” – why couldn’t I just say “Eh, just had a major freak out before coming in?” I should have, I’m supposed to, yet it’s so hard to catch myself.
Sienna asked me questions and I evaded them with “don’t know” answers and one worded responses. I was anxious, closed down and guarded. I couldn’t look at her very much (another sure sign of something else going on for me.)
Sienna asked if I had anything I wanted to talk about and suspiciously and I said “ Do you?”
Sienna said “ I can always find stuff to talk about but I’m more interested in what’s been going through your mind….”
I didn’t answer. Sienna waited.
I said “ It’s been hard I think.” I remembered how the week before I was consumed with feelings of loss and grief and emptiness and abandonment pain but I wasn’t sure I wanted to venture into that with Sienna.
Sienna said “ yeah, I understand it’s hard. And I wonder what if feels like to hold that….”
I said “ That’s what’s hard” (holding everything by myself.)
Sienna clarified “ Holding it? It’s exhausting.”
I looked away.
Sienna said “ I wonder…. You’re holding it and you look okay on the outside but what’s it like in the inside?”
Part of me felt like it was a pointless question. She KNOWS what this is doing to me. She know the answer to her own question. And anyway, what difference does it make to her? She’s making me hold it by myself regardless.
I said “ Not good.” (understatement of the year.)
Sienna asked “ So, when you’re at home on your own, what’s that like?”
I emphasised the words to indicate the answer was obvious “ NOT GOOD!” I smiled but I was tearing up.
She wasn’t put off.
“ uh-huh, but what does that look like?
I didn’t answer.
Sienna asked “ What do you do to self-soothe at home?”
Oh here we go, I thought to myself. Let’s talk about self-soothing just to really hammer home to me just how alone I am. That she isn’t going to help me, she isn’t interested in those times at home so she wants me to “self-soothe.” Fuck off.
But I answered. I told her that I meditated most days, grounding exercises, breathing….
She asked “ Okay. Are you self-harming?”
I shook my head no. There was a part of me that didn’t want to tell her that I hadn’t needed to self-harm. Only that morning had I’d had the impulse to self-harm but I didn’t. But I am angry that she’s withdrawn her support outside of sessions and I’m hurt and part of me wanted to tell her that I was self-harming as a “ SEE how much you’ve hurt me and let me down? I have to self-harm now because you took your support away!!” And also I didn’t want to prove her right by showing that I can cope without her.
But the truth is, I haven’t self-harmed. And I wouldn’t lie about it so I had to tell her the truth.
She said with enthusiasm “ THAT IS FANTASTIC!
Okay, Lady. Whatever.
She continued “ What is it like for you if I say that’s probably the biggest, one of the best things that I’ve heard because it does show a level of capacity to hold this. Or do you sometimes feel like self-harming, but you’re not? Has that impulse dwindled or become less?”
I said quietly “ Less.”
Sienna said “ Okay. Well, credit where credit is due, Sirena.”
I said nothing. I felt irritated. I didn’t want her to see success, I didn’t want her to see any positive in withdrawing herself from me. I didn’t want things to look good or okay or as if progress was being made. I wanted things to look terrible and bleak and painful and I wanted her to know she caused it all. It’s her fault.
I don’t see any positives in her withdrawing her support. I haven’t self-harmed. Okay. But that is in no way indicative of success or capacity or growth or anything else she thinks. There’s only certain parts who self-harm and if they’re not around then the self-harm is non-existent. That’s why the self-harm seems to happen out of nowhere for what seems like no reason. That’s why there’s all different reasons for the self-harming behaviour. Sometimes it’s by a young part (Libby, 10) part who needs comfort and find cutting herself soothing. Sometimes it’s by a part who hates herself and has deep rage towards her body (Claire, maybe? She’s 18 I think) , and sometimes it’s by a part who is triggered and deeply dissociated.
I’ve actually just worked that out by writing this. Hmm interesting.
So anyway, not cutting isn’t a sign of improvement.
It feels like Sienna is looking for any sign no matter how tenuous, that she hasn’t fucked me up by recent events, she’s looking for any little sign to salve her own conscience.
Sienna continued “ And I wonder if the disruption from holding is more or less than the disruption you’d feel on a daily basis about something else anyway? Because you weren’t getting much relief anyway and I suppose it can be useful to try to… assess if you like… Is there always a level of disruption no matter what you do?”
That question annoyed me. Just because I might have a level of disruption in my life caused by trauma stuff or attachment stuff or nightmares or therapy stuff or just emotional regulation stuff, it doesn’t really extricate her from what she did, what she is doing by withdrawing her support, from re-traumatising me by emotionally abandoning me. What she did isn’t negated because I’m generally dysregulated by something anyway.
I didn’t answer her.
I just stared at the wall ahead. I was paying attention to my body. I was getting all the signs of moving out of my window of tolerance. I was starting to claw at my hands, emotional getting further away. I felt activated and agitated inside.
Sienna asked about my sleep pattern and physical health throughout the week. I shrugged. I couldn’t remember.
Sienna said, picking up on my agitation, “ I wonder what we could do tonight to soothe a bit?”
I said nothing. I felt a tightness in my chest, a fast feeling, like a need to run away, panic maybe. I wanted to cry. And as those feelings increased the more rapidly I clawed at my hands. It’s hard to say why I do it or what I get from it or what the need is. But the need or impulse rather, is huge.
Sienna moved over towards me. She reached out for my hands. “ Give me your hand.”
I hesitated. Wanting to but not feeling able to.
Take my hand.” She instructed.
I reached out and put both my hands in hers. My hands gripped hers. She stroked the back of my hands with her thumbs.
She said quietly “ Look at me…” I looked up briefly but eye contact felt painful.
Sienna said “It’s going to be okay. And I know this feels realllly difficult but you are going to be okay. Bit by bit. And I know it doesn’t feel like that often.”
I didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much thought in my head, just reactions.
Sienna continued to speak “ And I don’t know if it feels like an anxiety or it feels like a loss – the change…..”
I nodded. Yes! It’s loss. Huge loss. I began crying. I felt about 10 years old.
Sienna said “ Yes, I know. And maybe it’s about trying to help you understand or feel loss in a different way. Because at the moment you’re still experiencing it like an attachment loss.”
I didn’t like that. I felt like I was doing something wrong by feeling so upset and lost by Sienna withdrawing. And it felt like she was downgrading her importance to me or the importance of our relationship in my life by saying that this change shouldn’t be so utterly devastating to me, that our relationship isn’t important enough in reality to merit such strong feelings and that hurt.
In an un-triggered state, I can see that that wasn’t exactly what she was saying to me. I think she was just stating the obvious truth which is I experience any loss or any endings or any change in the present with the same absolute terror and heartbreak and desperation as the original loss of my mother. That if I had been securely attached through childhood, then change or space wouldn’t be so damaging for me. That the therapy relationship wouldn’t be so integral to my well-being.
But in the moment, although I didn’t feel she was criticizing me, I still felt like there was something wrong with me, something I was failing at or doing wrong. And I felt like she was taking away our relationship as it had been by saying what she did. It felt like she was saying that I wasn’t allowed to make her be so important to me anymore.
Sienna empathised, seeing how painful this change is for me “ I know. I know.”
But she doesn’t properly know, she doesn’t know how I heard what she’d just said. Her “ I know” was her saying “ I see your pain. I see how hard it is.”
Sienna said “ And you know, it is what it is. It’s how you’re feeling and experiencing it. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same as the original loss. I know to one or two of the little ones that they will feel that way, but the older ones have to carry them. And know that it’s not as bad as the original loss. “
I hated this speech. I don’t want to be told it’s not the same as the original loss. What does it matter if it’s not the original loss? What does it matter? The only thing that matters to me is that it feels that way. I don’t care if it’s not everyone else’s reality, it’s MY reality. I am re-experiencing the original loss through what Sienna has done. It feels the same, even if it isn’t the same. To me, my attachment, my love for her, my relationship with her IS real and I have lost a big chunk of access to this person who has been my mother-figure for nearly 3 years. She was my secure base, my therapist and mother rolled into one, she worked so closely with me on so many levels and she really mattered to me, she was a central person in my life. So, who fucking cares if it technically shouldn’t be so big a loss, or that psychological theories proves that I am re-experiencing the original loss of my mother? That’s irrelevant to me. It’s a reason why I’m so upset but it doesn’t take away the fact that our rupture has caused pain and loss for me.
And it’s not just a loss of outside contact, there’s been a withdrawal of psychological holding and I’ve felt it and been aware of it for a very long time. Sienna hasn’t held me in mind as much as she used to. She has (unconsciously or sub-consciously) psychologically moved back from me in very subtle ways that even she hadn’t realised until recently and it had shown up in her responses to me.
Sienna’s voice was gentle. “Focus on what you do have ( in terms of access to her), which for most people is normal, that’s the normal amount. If you want normal – that’s normal. So, the bit that’s left, the painful bit, we have to find ways of soothing that and making it not feel the extremes that it does…. Not as intense. And sometimes that means dealing with sadness but I think it’s dealing with anger as well, anger because things have changed. And I wish that life was straight forward, that things didn’t need to change. But they do.”
Sienna asked “ Who’s feeling this tonight, hm?”
I said quietly “ I don’t know.” And that was the truth. I felt regressed. But I had no information on who was there.
Sienna said “ It’s okay.”
She continued “ This is actually not about surviving this, it’s about living this. This is about not seeing this as a survival issue. Feeling that it’s a survival issue is NOT comparable to the reality of what this (change) is.”
I agree that this situation can be used for me to learn to live through painful things instead of avoiding them, learning that pain and loss can be survived. That’s a good lesson, I suppose. But I wholeheartedly disagree that the level of my distress over this is not comparable to the actual reality.
Who’s reality? Hers?
All any of us have is our own reality which is viewed through the lens of our own life experiences, our own hurts, our own traumas, our own challenges. No one on this planet lives strictly in a factually accurate emotional world. We are all projecting our own experiences onto any given moment, any given emotional exchange. And so each of our realities will be slightly different to the actual scientific fact of a situation. It’s why memory isn’t fully accurate. It’s why a group of people who experience the exact same event, will remember things slightly differently or sometimes vastly differently. So in that situation, whose reality is the real reality?
It feels unfair to have my pain and distress labelled separate from actual reality or more than it should be.
Sienna asked about my days, what I had been doing. I couldn’t tell her, I didn’t know. I had a felt sense that I’d been busy, yet I couldn’t remember anything other than being at home. Or in bed.
I told her I didn’t know what I’d been doing. She asked about what routine I had? I shrugged.
She said “ Part of this process is you finding a structure in it…”
I felt defensive and interjected “ I KNOW”.
Sienna said in her patient mother giving advice to errant teen voice “ And you’ve got a structure, I know you have. And usually at this time of year you’re usually doing things for xmas even if it’s not big stuff. I know when you’re in that place it’s really difficult to motivate yourself but only you can decide if you’re surviving or living. Because it’s not dependent on other people, not anymore.”
Ugh. Shut UP!!!
It really felt like this was a handing over of responsibility. It felt like this was a speech you get as a teenager about pulling your weight in the house, or behaving better or studying more.
I don’t need that. I don’t need a coaching speech. I am doing my part thank you very much.
I said nothing. I didn’t like this space she was creating. It felt like she was stepping back in some ways. It felt like the training wheels were off and she was leaving it to me to sink or swim (sorry for the mixed metaphors haha!)
I said to her through sobbing “ I am trying SO hard.”
She said “ I know you are. I see it. You’re doing okay. But there’s a bit of this picture that has a mindset, that depends on other people for you to be okay. And we have to swing that round so that you’re okay authentically. Not because you’re fighting against what other people are doing. So that you can relax and feel okay. Being happy or being okay is not dependent on me or your mum.
We are an important part of it, but it’s (my wellbeing) is not dependent on it. It’s not defined by trauma or abandonment. It’s part of your identity but how you choose to take this forward is not dependent on any of us. We can be there to support you but the shift has to come from within and I know that’s hard. And it’s hard for any of the rest of us outside seeing you struggle and that actually, when all your parts find their feet, you’re a pretty unstoppable person and we love you for all of those things, every part, and everything that makes you you, every bit of you!
I sat there listening. Unhappy. Alone. Misunderstood.
I try really hard. I am trying SO fucking hard. I am going at my pace. I am not a dependent person. My issues have never been about depending on others to make me happy or depending on others for anything.
I have always been super independent. Once I moved out of home at the age of 20. I never asked any of my parents for a single penny. I paid my way. I paid my own bills- a mortgage bytheway. I always worked.
My extreme distress has come in therapy from learning to depend. Learning that it’s okay to need someone, need help, it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to have needs, that I don’t have to keep everything inside. That’s been a very hard lesson to learn and it’s taken years. My extreme distress has been because of developmental trauma, it’s been because I am constantly fighting against my ingrained disorganised attachment alarm system that tells me that I am in extreme danger whenever I try to depend on someone to get my needs met or when I begin to feel love or care for someone. My body reacts as if I am in a life or death situation when someone gets emotionally close to me and especially if I get close to them.
My adult self/selves are SO sensible, SO well adjusted and independent and clear thinking and emotionally regulated. It’s actually bizarre how emotionally mature and healthy they are.
But the younger parts, like the 14 and unders….. they are needy and dependent and exactly where they should be for their age. Children ARE dependent. Children do reply on their parents to help them regulate. Children with trauma are extra needy, extra demanding, extra challenging and need a lot all of the time.
My child parts are exactly how they need to be and are acting in an age appropriate/trauma specific way. I am not a singular fully integrated adult who has a dependent personality disorder. I am a structurally dissociated and fragmented adult with many dissociated, frozen in time, child parts. That’s not the same as being too needy or too dependent and just needing to choose to take responsibility for myself and my emotional well-being.
I feel like Sienna isn’t seeing that anymore. That in order to cope with what she’s done, she has to switch off from my needs, from my parts. She has to put responsibility back onto me before I’m ready for that just so someone is there, even if it’s not her. It’s like she’s re-writing my story. Re-writing who I am and what my issues are, just so they can fit into a nice box of “ this client is too dependent and the answer is to make her be responsible for her own needs.”
Takes the pressure off her, doesn’t it?
If she could physically see the 5 year old, the 3 year old, the 7 year old, the 10year old who sits on the floor in her little white vest that’s slightly too long for her and takes a razor to herself just because she needs a cuddle and there’s no one there to give her it…… would she tell those children that their needs are their own to deal with? Or that they are too dependent?
Just because she can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there and are not listening.
The only thing that made any of this remotely bearable was that she said she loved me. It was a surprise to hear her say it so normally and matter of factly. As if it was an obvious fact.
It was lovely. And reassuring.
Sienna continued speaking. “ and I believe in you. And I see your capacity growing, slowly but surely. Even if it’s one step forward and two back, it doesn’t matter. And I will make whatever changes necessary to keep myself here.”
I just sat crying.
I said to her “ I’m trying really really hard, Sienna. Every single day.”
Sienna said “ I know you are. I know.”
I said “ And I’m doing well…”
“ You are, I think you are too.” She replied.
She added “ And I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I really know that it’s hard but I also know that before was hard too. And I don’t know if it’s because you don’t have the same kind of outlet for it now that makes it feel as if you’re containing it all or if you’re containing it through your blog or other ways.”
I said “ I’m dissociating a lot.”
Sienna said “ Yeah and some of that might be habit. That your body and mind have been trained to dissociate. But you ARE doing well, I’m not saying you’re not. But I see you surviving and I want you to live.
-I want you to want to live and not just survive.”
I whispered “ I do want to live.”
As I listen back on this session, it’s strange to hear the ebb and flow of the dissociation. How one minute I sound like a child and the next, I’m speaking as an adult again.
Sienna and I moved away onto a new topic, a lighter chat about books. As we returned to my levels of dissociation recently, Sienna asked about my flashbacks. She asked the nature of them if they were all the same or different?
And I hear myself begin to regress again to the vulnerable child-like voice. I don’t remember feeling like I had regressed but it sounds like I did on the recording.
I didn’t answer about the flashbacks.
Sienna said “ Were they abuse?”
I say in a tearful child voice “ I have those dreams all the time.”
Sienna said “ Do you know who it is?”
I shake my head. I feel myself closing down, and feeling angry and protective and just a big giant NOPE! To this subject.
Sienna says “ just the feelings in your body?”
Sienna said “ It’s good that now you have presence of mind to tell yourself that those feelings are not happening now in the present.”
I say in a small huffy voice “ I don’t care about this.”
Sienna said softly “ Which bit do you care about?
I couldn’t answer.
Sienna asked “ Does it make you not want to go to sleep?
I said “ I don’t think I care about the dreams. Anymore.”
I’m not sure if that’s a lie. I do care. But they happen lots of times in the week and multiple in a night sometimes. No one else cares that they’re happening so why should I? ( ummm…. Was that a part? I think so.)
I said “ They just happen, ALL the time.”
Sienna suggested changing the dream, giving it an ending that I want.
I say something but I can’t hear what I say.
Sienna continued “ to push the perpetrator away, to not let them near you. For you to decide it isn’t happening anymore.”
I felt really defensive and angry and disenpowered and something…. And emotion I can’t put my finger on. I didn’t like Sienna talking about this stuff. The word perpetrator jarred with me, it felt, too… real. I felt angry, but at myself.
Sienna said “ But you’re living that survival every night, and that’s not good enough for you. You deserve better.”
I said “ Why do I deserve better?”
Sienna said “ Because it wasn’t your fault that anything happened, why should you pay for it forever?”
I listened to the voice in my head that had suddenly turned self-loathing and abusive. It was a mix of my voice and a man’s voice. Saying horrible things to me. I began to feel agitated.
Sienna continued “ Maybe you need to believe that you deserve – that you’re worth as much as anyone else.”
I said “ I’m not though.”
Sienna said “ You ARE. And that’s another part of your imagination that you need to challenge. Just like the flashbacks aren’t happening now, those sensations don’t need to happen now, so too does that belief that you’re not worth anything.”
I protest “ I’m not. I know I’m not.”
I feel my worthlessness crawl all over me. I feel cheap. I feel vile and ashamed of not being good enough.
Sienna asked “ What makes you think you’re not?”
“ Cos I’m not.”
I was thinking… comparing myself to her daughters whom she’d said she’d brought up to be strong independent women. And I am not any of those things. Therefore how can Sienna like me? How can Sienna not be repulsed by me? How can she not compare me to them?
Sienna said “ does that feed into the fact that you feel like you need people more than you really do?”
That annoyed me and I raised my voice “ I DON’T think I need people. I don’t need people.”
Fuck You Sienna.
Sienna didn’t push.
She said “ I think you’re doing a really good job. Because you’re Sirena, and that’s what she does. And you deserve to live. And that’s the bit you need to shift in your head. That you’re not worthless, that you are important… Or none of us would be here.
Despite what you’ve been through, your mum’s about, even if it’s at her level of capacity. I’m about…. At my level of capacity, you husband is about. You just need to show up too. Cos your worth it and you’re important. We want to see you…. You need to show up in your own life. And you will because I believe in you.”
UGH she was pissing me off. Stop with the “ cos you’re worth it” L’oreal shit.
I stayed silent. Agitated as hell.
Sienna continued “ Someone else disempowered you. Not you. I suppose they did it back then and in some ways you’re doing it to yourself now by not believing in yourself. But I appreciate that’s not a switch you can flip easily.”
All I could hear was the voice in my head saying horrible things to me. And I got more and more agitated and upset.
Sienna got the snow globe off the shelf to give me to try and calm me.
I shook it and watched the glitter and snow fall.
But I was crying so hard by now.
Sienna asked “ What’s the tears? Can you put words to it?”
I couldn’t say the man’s telling me things. But I nodded.
I kept getting more and more upset and just vulnerable.
I said to Sienna “ Can I sit? Sit there?” And motioned to the floor.
I almost dove onto the floor, my back against the two sofas where their corners meet. It made me feel safe to curl up there.
I brought my knees up and cried into my arms.
Sienna stroked my hair.
Sienna said “ Feel the floor. Feel your feet on the floor.”
I just cried and cried.
Sienna asked “ What’s going through your head?”
I said “ Can I write it?”
“You can.” Sienna got me paper and pen.
I shakily wrote what the voice was saying and gave it back to Sienna.
“ You are a worthless piece of shit.”
Sienna said “ Where’s the evidence for that? Write down the evidence.”
Sienna asked “ Where’s the evidence? There is none.”
I said tearfully “ There is.”
At this point as I write, I have no fucking idea what I was on about.
I said “ It’s because I’ve failed.”
Sienna said “ Why have you failed? What have you failed at?”
I said “ Everything.”
Sienna replied “ No you haven’t!”
She added “ We all fail at things. What have you succeeded in? I’ll write it down shall I?
And she wrote down a few things.
I looked at them briefly before turning my head away again.
Sienna said to me “ You’re the only person in this world who thinks you’re a worthless piece of shit. No one else does. And that is just a feeling from the past. Someone else made you feel like that, it’s not you.”
I said tearfully “ You said that you brought your girls up to be strong and independent and I’m not any of those things.”
Sienna laughed affectionately and said “ Neither are they at times. Neither are they. It doesn’t mean to say that you breeze through life. All it means it that, they can survive on their own if they need to but on the whole they don’t choose to. Doesn’t mean they don’t still come looking for reassurance or a shoulder to cry on or help with thinking through options. There’s plenty of times I don’t like them, I’ll never not love them but there’s things they do to this day that I’m like “ not impressed.” “
Sienna said “ don’t ever ever think you’re not good enough.”
She joked “ Because you’ll find with me, that my clients never get away until they know that they’re worth a lot. And you ARE worth a lot”
I said “ You WERE going to let me go away, alone.”
She said softly “ Only if you chose to. But you didn’t.”
I said “ I’m just allowed to float about, float away.”
Sienna said “ no matter what the alters do, or think or say, fundamentally you are such a good person, with good moral values. And just like the rest of us, you’re not perfect and that makes you human and that’s what we love about you.”
I laughed “ I think there’s been plenty of times you’ve not loved me very much!”
Sienna said lightly “ There’s maybe been times I’ve not liked you – I can’t say I’ve never not loved you, there’s a big difference.”
I felt all warm inside. She’s loved me even at times she’s not liked me. That’s a big thing. And the thought brought me some peace.
I said tearily “ I’ve never not liked you.”
Sienna said wryly “ I’m not sure why!”
I laughed. There’s times I’ve been so angry at her that I’ve said I hate her, but I’ve never meant it. Deep down I’ve still liked her.
Sienna said “ But I suppose I like myself and feel I’m worth enough to know my limits. And I’m very proud of you for working through that because I know it’s not been easy. It was really hard. But I really respect you for keeping at it. Really respect it.”
For the last 5-10 minutes we chatted about different things. The conversation was very reminiscent of a parent talking to a child about the world, giving them facts, giving metaphors for our relationship. I asked if I could come and sit with her. And we chatted and I cuddled into her and listened to her talk to me.
It was so bonding and lovely.
And for the first time in months I left that office totally grounded. Calm. Happy. It was an amazing feeling. And the feeling has carried me all this week.
Oxytocin is an amazing chemical, people!!!!