So, here we are. 2018.
And as I return to therapy, I cast my mind over all that’s happened in the past few months and start to think how on earth Sienna and I can begin to fix this rupture, and indeed “if” we can fix it.
Since returning at the end of November to therapy after Sienna’s implosion and subsequent time off, we have been very careful around one another. Our sessions have been fairly mundane and light. We haven’t approached the subject of the rupture and what happened, at my request. I haven’t and still don’t feel able to talk about it.
The pain and hurt and trauma it has caused is still too close to the surface and without the safety net of outside contact and support, I don’t feel equipped to deal with any of it. The mere mention of it begins to plunge me into a trauma response.
Right now I am trying to find my way forward. Trying to assess my own capabilities, trying to find a place to exist in therapy that is safe for me. My capacity for anything deep has diminished.
I fluctuate between deep distress at how things are right now and about the rupture and become convinced that my therapy with Sienna is probably already over, too damaged by the rupture. And that this is just a long goodbye- a drawn out termination because neither of us wants to admit we’ve fucked it up beyond repair and it’s over.
And the flip side is that sometimes I feel reassured that in reality everything is okay. The outside contact has been taken away to give Sienna the rest she needs and our sessions remain the same and her commitment to me is still unshakable-ish. When I remember that it’s just the outside contact that’s changed, I suddenly feel better and safer, like a weight has lifted from my shoulders. And suddenly it all feels doable again.
I am trying to not look too far into the future, trying not to think about the “what if’s”. Right now my main goal is to keep turning up. It’s all I can do. Just keep turning up and hope time heals a bit.
A lot has changed since the rupture. It feels like a lot has changed. But in reality it also seems like not much has changed. So, I’m not sure which is true. Can both be true?
I have developed a new anxiety symptom. I think I might have mentioned it before but it’s happened a few times now but only started in November. It’s a burning skin sensation. I describe it as a prickling burning hot feeling on the skin, it feels similar to really bad sunburn. It feels painful as it travel over my chest, it feels both hot and cold at the same time and if feels like the burning/ice cold feeling is both on my skin and in between the layers of skin. Along with that, I feel frozen to the spot, I feel terror and a restriction to my throat. My heart thuds in my chest slowly but heavily.
Unfortunately, the trigger seems to be my therapist. I can’t believe it. I’ve developed a traumatic trigger to my therapist. How heart-breaking is that?
It doesn’t happen in sessions, or at least it hasn’t so far. But sometimes we’ve exchanged texts about scheduling changes and if I see an unexpected text from her, then the burning starts up until I’ve read and digested her words and realise there’s no dangerous information, no abandonment or rupture in her text.
Interestingly, this week I happened to look up the anxiety symptoms. I could tell that it was anxiety induced, I knew it was a body response to perceived danger. But I wanted to understand if there were reports by other people of it, if it was a well known symptom of anxiety, because I’d never heard of it before. And if so, I wanted to understand the physiology behind it.
And lo and behold! There is indeed information on this symptom. Apparently, it is to do with the body’s stress response; the fight or flight. The explanation given on anxiety.com says that the burning is the body re-directing blood from our skin to our vital organs, the ones needed most for survival.
“1. Anxiety has caused a stress response
Behaving anxiously activates the body’s stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat – to either fight with or flee from it – which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.
Part of the stress response changes include shunting blood away from parts of the body less important for survival and to parts that are vital for survival. Since the body only has so much blood, the body needs to shunt it around accordingly and based on the requirement at the time.
For example, blood is shunted away from the skin (so that if the skin is cut, the body doesn’t bleed to death) and to the brain (so the brain has more fuel to process information). This shunting action can stimulate nerve cells in the skin, which can cause a burning sensation to occur during an active stress response.”
Excellent to know and understand this, but how devastating to know that my body and brain has made a link between my therapist and the threat to my very survival!
It makes me so sad.
I should tell her this, shouldn’t I?
I’m sure there’s a few people reading this who are positive that my therapy is beyond repair. Sometimes I think it is too.
But I reason with myself that to give up now, would leave me with yet another abandonment, another negative experience of therapy. And I cannot bear that. I feel like if there’s even the smallest of hopes that Sienna and I can get through this, then I have to try. Maybe this really IS the work. Sienna certainly seems to think so.
Maybe in a few months time, with the benefit of hindsight I’ll be able to see that it was a mistake to keep trying. But I don’t think that’s something any of us can know for sure.
But I am hoping and praying that Sienna and I can just stick together through this incredibly painful time and find some learning and some peace.
For a long time since this rupture exploded, I have felt a sense of abandonment and the deepest of hurts and betrayals by Sienna. It has poured salt onto already opened and deep wounds.
I have sensed Sienna’s inability to hold me as firmly as she once had. I have felt her move back from me and I have had to accept that if I want to stay with her, then I have to find acceptance for her limits and for her eroded capacity to hold my trauma for any longer than our session time.
She admitted to feeling overwhelmed with it. With so many parts needing different things, with the level of trauma they were sharing with her outside of sessions. The sheer level of need they exude and demand at times.
It’s very hard to hear that she was suffering by merely bearing witness to all my pain. It was hard to hear that she was moving away from it to save herself. She chose herself over me, and left me with all the trauma to hold myself.
I have felt bitter about that. How could she leave me? How could she know what I’m dealing with and choose to leave me all by myself? I thought she cared about me? I thought she loved me? Surely if she loved and cared about me, she’d not choose to save herself?
Adult me knows she had to save herself. She had to replenish. She had to stand back from the sheer level of trauma and get some reprieve from it, some fresh air. She had to have time to reclaim herself. She had to do it, because if she didn’t save herself, then she couldn’t come back and save me. We’d both go down.
She did the right thing for her.
But the trauma parts of me, they feel abandoned and betrayed. They feel that she left me to die. That no one wants to help us.
I don’t agree with a lot of her version of events, I don’t agree with a lot of her perceptions of what happened and why. I very much feel like there’s a sense of… not blame exactly, but that her eroding capacity was because of me and my level of need rather than her fucking up her own boundaries.
She didn’t keep clear boundaries, that if you look back to 2016, I was begging for. I knew the contact as it was wasn’t sustainable for any of us. I asked her to determine her availability and lack of availability so that she did had downtime and she refused several times to establish that. I am still not sure why. So, I kept on contacting her as and when I wanted and needed to, until she finally imploded.
She didn’t take many breaks. And when she did, it was only one week every few months. As a client, of course I was glad of that. Breaks are hard. My young parts struggled with even a week. So, I was never going to encourage her to take more or point out that she didn’t take very long. Plus it’s absolutely not my job to do that. I had to trust that she knew how to look after herself.
This rupture happened in my opinion because she didn’t look after herself, or her boundaries. Not because of what I was bringing to the table.
I could be wrong in feeling like I am being blamed or made responsible. I haven’t had a proper discussion with her about it. We touched on it briefly a few weeks ago and I think I told her my feelings on it. But I can’t remember much about it to be honest and I’d need to listen back.
I think I might have asked her to stop talking because I could feel I was getting too upset.
In fact, it may have been that session that I ended up sitting on the floor trying to regulate myself and switched to a young part who moved over to her and cuddled into her leg. ( Yep, not embarrassing at all!)
From various bits of conversations, I have gleaned that Sienna regrets having ever introduced outside contact, given how massive an impact it’s had on both of us. I think she is shocked and horrified that she’s managed to cause me so much pain. Especially over something I warned her about from the very first meeting.
But I don’t regret it. Despite the pain it has caused me and despite the huge rupture and detrimental effect it’s had on both of us, I do not regret any of it.
I feel sad that the work we did for nearly two years could be looked at with pain and regret. Because a lot of it was hugely beneficial to me. It laid the foundations of our relationship. It enabled me to trust and begin to experience what secure attachment feels like for the first time in my life. That work was and is precious to me. I don’t want it to be tainted with regret. That work and those foundations laid is what has allowed me to come back after this almighty rupture. It is the remembering of those precious times where I felt safe and cared for and rescued and stabilised that enabled me to fight for our relationship, to fight through the damage caused by this rupture and find hope.
What I do regret is that damage has been caused. I regret that Sienna wasn’t better with her own boundaries and didn’t keep herself safe. I believe if she’d done that, that our rupture would not have happened and I believe that a sustainable way of giving outside support of some kind could have been found that would have been a compromise for both of us but would have allowed for a more boundaried and predictable way of working, for both our sakes.
I would be interested to know Sienna’s opinion on that. She may disagree, I don’t know. But as it is, I don’t feel ready to talk about it all with her.
As this has all unfolded since October/November, I have observed a lot about process, about the parts I hold within me and how they function. I’ve been able to keep a meta-perspective.
Although it feels like there’s no communication between them, and they don’t seem to have knowledge of one another, or at least a relationship with one another, there is a clear system at play. They are operating separately but for the good of the whole system.
When this all began with Sienna burning out in an explosive turn of events, my system went into overdrive. For many weeks I felt a survivor part move in. I felt numbed, the vulnerable young parts and the angry teen parts all but disappeared. This survivor part appeared adult in thinking and outwardly acting. As this survivor part fronted, she was able to tolerate the distance, the space, the uncertainty of whether Sienna would return from her burn-out or if I’d be terminated.
It was never pleasant. In the first few weeks I definitely broke too. But that survivor part somehow got me through. I started to gain emotional distance from Sienna, started to prepare myself for the abandonment ahead. I felt in an adult space.
Yet my levels of dissociation were also increasing. I was losing time. I was numbed. I could feel the terror and hurt in the background but it felt like it was miles away. It needed to be.
But I never self-harmed and I was never suicidal. I have since realised why.
The suicidal feelings and the self-harming behaviours, they belong to parts! I don’t think I’ve ever realised that before. I mean, I knew that there were parts who self-harmed and parts that didn’t. But I suppose I didn’t realise that all the times I’ve self-harmed or taken overdoses, those were times when I’d switched into parts and not known.
I’ve always wondered why in times of extreme distress and danger like therapeutic ruptures, I survive them and don’t feel tempted to kill myself or cut myself with a razor, yet something a lot more simple, like Sienna being misattuned to me one day, or not texting me back or simply waking up from a nightmare or just being dissociated for no apparent reason, could cause me to take such drastic steps?
I now realise that it’s because certain parts move in to do certain jobs. The suicidal and self-harm stuff is attached to much younger parts who feel like therapeutic misattunement from their safe person is an annhilation, a pain so deep and treacherous to my soul that escape is sought through death. The self-harm part or part is probably also young but perhaps closer to teen years and uses the anger and disappointment she feels and turns it on herself, because there’s no one else to turn her anger on.
But the adult survivor part, she comes in when real danger, real saving is needed. I need adult skills to understand what’s happening, to survive potential abandonment, to communicate and advocate for all of us in the system.
This is new awareness for me.
This survivor part hasn’t felt like real skills. It has felt like a shock response. A response to deep distress, and to real emergency. It has felt like a pseudo-adult, not an authentic and integrated part of me that has grown.
It has felt very much like another fragment, doing its job of keeping me safe and surviving. In order for this part to stay in the front, I have had to dissociate to a huge extent to keep the stronger more vulnerable child parts away from all this pain. Hence the losing time, the zoning out, the forgetfulness.
I have felt so much sadness as I operate alone, looking after myself best I can through this rupture, because Sienna just was no longer there to do it.
I have put all my feelings on hold, locked them down, just to enable me to survive while Sienna stayed off work and then to enable me to return to therapy.
It’s been awful. Horrific.
I have felt so much loneliness at having to mother myself. So much fear for whether Sienna and I can get through this rupture and I’ve had to hold all the parts by myself when I feel least able to.
I felt unprepared to just have all the parts thrown back into my arms to hold by myself.
But I have managed. I have found a way through it and there has been some genuine growth during this time.
I feel like it’s important to document how I got to this growth and to write down skills and knowledge that have helped me lately and that will hopefully influence my therapy journey in 2018.
I started at the beginning of December with ideas of how to progress in therapy.
It was clear to me that if Sienna wasn’t able to give me help outside of sessions, then the sessions needed to stop being so bloody intense. If Sienna’s capacity to support me had reduced, then so had my capacity to tolerate depth therapy.
I simply could not and was not prepared to work as hard and as deeply with my triggers and traumatic memories if there was no safety net outside of the therapy room.
I knew that I could not leave that room still triggered. I knew that I do not yet have the skills to put all the trauma back into a box and leave it there until next time. So we have to find a way to start observing what my body is doing, and when I am approaching a dysregulated state.
I knew that working somatically was/is going to be the key to success. We need to go back to basics with my therapy. Safety first. So I told Sienna that we need to watch out for me getting dysregulated, and I brought in fidget toys, strong menthol sweets and essential oils that might help bring me out of a dissociative state. I’ve asked that we reserve 5 minutes at the end for grounding if needed. Again, we’ve done that a couple of times and sort of slipped away from that as our conversations and time slip away from us.
Secondly, I knew that I might need something to hold onto during the week, so suggested to Sienna that she write something down for me to keep – something nice or encouraging or something to remember in the week between sessions. – We’ve remembered to do this once! And this reminds me to be better about getting Sienna to do that.
New ways of working, establishing new habits are hard to remember it would seem.
I’ve kept in quite an adult place for most of my sessions. I’ve been keenly aware that I am on my own now between sessions so I am pacing myself, I am trying to not get triggered in sessions or approach subjects that are too dysregulating.
And that seems to be working for the most part. I am able to leave in a fairly adult place and that allows me to transition away from therapy to real life, to adult life. And there I stay for the rest of the week.
I do feel frustrated because the pace has slowed down to almost a standstill. I feel like a slug trying to cross a whole continent one belly-slither at a time.
It feels like it’s going to take a life-time at this rate. And I am getting older and so is Sienna, we don’t have a lifetime to get through all of this. We have perhaps 10-12 years before she retires. Which sounds a lot but it isn’t, not considering the amount of work ahead.
But this somatic work HAS to be done. I have to learn how to stay within my window of tolerance i.e. Not hyper-aroused and not hypo-aroused. I have to be able to put on the breaks when I start to feel myself becoming dysregulated. But first I have to recognise what my body is doing!
I have to start paying attention to every twitch, every held breath, every tensed muscle and work out what it’s telling me. I have to realise it and be able to regulate it and calm myself down.
Once I master that, only then can we move onto harder things, trauma stuff, triggers.
The temptation once was (and still is) to allow myself to explore the triggers, express the pain, let the parts speak, let them be traumatised in the room, to finally explode out all the stuff I’ve held in and hidden all my life. There’s such sweet relief in letting it go, in having it witnessed, having it soothed. It’s in part healing but also painful, and nightmarish and overwhelming and even traumatic.
But ultimately, there’s wisdom in learning the basics first. The basic of putting the breaks on the trauma stuff, of learning how to stay regulated, of how to titrate the trauma stuff, because ultimately it is me, the client walking out that door and facing the rest of the week alone to cope with it all.
It feels slow and boring, it feels like I take the adult in every week to therapy and it isn’t the adult who needs therapy, the adult is actually pretty awesome. Over the course of a few weeks, I’ve really began to cultivate a very authentic, capable adult part which I think will probably be part of my core self when I become more integrated. And she has a positive and nurturing parent voice. As a result I am coping fairly well, my self-care has been excellent and I am feeling hopeful and pro-active in my own life.
I think it’s only through this rupture and the withdrawal of outside contact that space has been freed up to allow this adult part to be cultivated. And she strengthens every week.
It’s true she’s been bourn of necessity and crisis, but she feels real to me. Truly authentically a part of me, not a fragmented part or a fighter part or a protector. But rather a real part of me, maybe the first part of an integrated self? The beginnings of a core self perhaps.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading from a book I am currently in love with because it describes the inner experience of someone with structural dissociation/D.I.D/Complex trauma etc so well. It has brought me to tears several times to finally read something I recognise and what’s more, it gives hope and confidence in healing. It gives a clear path for both therapist and client in moving safely forward and understanding the pitfalls ahead.
Sienna has asked me to underline all the bits that resonate for me, and she’ll read the book after me. As it stands, most pages have highlighted bits and annotations.
And tonight I’ve just read a page that explains precisely the pitfall Sienna and I moved into, it explains why the rupture happened, what dynamics caused it and OMG it’s just such a revelation. To have it in black in white, to see that what we’ve gone through is normal in this work and that the mistakes we’ve made are due to not recognising the different parts that move in swiftly and seamlessly at times and hijack situations and the relationship in an attempt to protect me.
I will write more about this in my next post, because this one is long. But we have hope, people. There is hope.
A hearty congratulations if you actually read all of this.