There’s been growth. There’s no doubt about it.
Since the huge rupture last October, I have grown exponentially in emotional resilience. I seem to be coping so much better with therapy, with the relationship, with distance and I even handled the rupture amazingly well considering how deeply distressing and traumatising it was.
Sienna and I had another rupture two weeks ago. We fell purely by accident into texting. What started as a scheduling query quickly expanded into me telling her how I’d felt about her cancelling my second last Thursday session before the break in favour of her Grandson’s birthday and rescheduling me to the Saturday instead.
When she’d told me at the end of session, I’d felt confused, because she’d chosen that Thursday herself, and she’d written it down in my journal, so when I got home I checked my journal there it was in HER writing. I was right.
Now, adult me, understood. Of course she would want to be there for her Grandson’s birthday. Of course I could come in on the Saturday instead. It really wasn’t a big deal. In fact, in some ways Saturday was better.
But my child parts were crestfallen. They felt so hurt and sad that she’d chosen to give away their time in favour of another child.
When Sienna had originally given us that date 4 weeks earlier, it was an extra session because she is going to be away for 3 weeks – the longest she’d ever been away from me.
So, it was a gesture to sort of “top” me up with care and attention as much as possible before she goes. It was so kind of her to think to do that and to want to do that. At the times she told me of those dates and that she’d slotted me in for an extra session, I felt so filled up with love and gratitude and I felt so looked after.
So for her to take that away, without even a conversation about it, to be just told in a sort of statement as she was reading her diary “ that’s “grandson’s birthday so I can’t do that date…” it just felt awful.
As with the rupture, and the subsequent month since, I kept my shit together. My hurt didn’t trigger a rage response or a protective part to kick in. All I felt was deep sadness. I felt like I’d been thrown away, that I was worthless. That I didn’t matter. That I didn’t measure up to family. They were better than me and would ALWAYS come before me.
I suppose these were the child’s feelings rather than adult me, who really does understand it.
I have had to miss quite a lot of Thursday sessions lately because of a combination logistics and 1 session Sienna had to cancel due to training. It was just one of those things but it was making me increasingly anxious. I was finding it harder and harder to hold things for myself.
I sent her a picture text with the dates she’d written down and asked her if I’d misunderstood or was she cancelling the Thursday session?
She sent me a text confirming that she’d like to change that Thursday to the Saturday to “spend time with family” before she goes on holiday.
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.
Amelia (one of my most traumatised child parts) scribbled ferociously for pages and pages in my journal. And I let her. It was important to let all those feelings out safely.
I had told her in the same session she cancelled the Thursday that I couldn’t make Thursday the 15th either because I didn’t think I was going to be able to get there. But it suddenly occurred to me that I could just get the train! I had no idea why I never thought of that. I immediately felt relief.
So I text Sienna and said I thought I’d just get the train up on the 15th but she’d already given my session away to someone else! Within 24-48 hours she’d given someone else my slot.
Keira (my 6 year old alter whined) so she text “ You gave away my session.”
And yeah, I cancelled first, why shouldn’t she? Blah blah blah…. But it still irritated and hurt me. But what was worse was that her reply felt like there was a tone to it, as she told me that no she hadn’t- I cancelled the Thursday and I was “ one of many” she was trying to see before she goes and she had to give someone else that time.
I should have taken the hint there and then that she was overwhelmed and stressed and busy and to stop texting. But alas, I didn’t.
The feelings that arose in me scared me. The level of anxiety about the upcoming break and the fact that my sessions had been all mixed up due to life events and increasing dissociation and then Sienna’s haughty poorly worded text scared me and made me want to withdraw before another impending rupture as is our pattern- ALWAYS a rupture before a break, I could see it coming a mile off and I didn’t want it.. So I told Sienna I was going to just start the break now. I told her I couldn’t bear all the changes and I was taking myself away before anything else starts up, I didn’t want anymore ruptures.
It was the best I could do. I had so many feelings that I just couldn’t cope with another rupture which I could see was on its way. It felt like it was better to withdraw myself than finally implode and have Keira’s clingy neediness and whining, or worse…. Sofia’s rage and tantrums.
Sienna wrote back that is was up to me but she’d keep my Monday’s open and that it would be a good chance to explore my fear of abandonment.
She had misunderstood. She had no idea that this wasn’t my usual abandonment fears, this wasn’t about her holiday. This was about my sadness and frustration about all the change and especially her changing the Thursday she’d given me especially in favour of her Grandson’s birthday tea.
I calmly explained that it wasn’t about abandonment. I explained to her that when she’d originally given me that extra Thursday a few weeks ago, it had felt like a gift.
“ You wrote that date in my diary. It was you who chose the date and you who gave me it. And then on Monday you took it away from me like it was nothing. But it had meant something to me. It was a gift but then you took it away. And today you’re telling me I’m one of many. I feel hurt. I’m sorry but I just feel sad and hurt.”
I thought I’d done really well to be vulnerable and non-confrontational and to explain what’s really going on. I felt like it would have been easy to cover my vulnerability with Sofia’s feisty attitude, but I CHOSE something different. I chose to communicate instead of just react.
So, I was shocked when I got a sarcastic mouthful back from Sienna.
It was an over-emotional, over-tired, frustrated non-therapist reply.
I felt like I’d been slapped. I was shocked and all the feelings similar to the last big rupture came flooding back. She isn’t meant to talk to me like that, I thought to myself. She is fucking nuts!
I told my husband “ She is a nippy cow!!!” (LOL a British colloquialism for a bad tempered woman)
I burst out laughing as I said it because it was such a teenagery thing to say.
Part of me felt like a teenage daughter, rolling her eyes as her mother goes on another hormonal rant. And I knew Sienna’s outburst had come from being stressed, overloaded, exhausted and probably guilt. Part of me wasn’t worried, part of me felt like telling her to go take a Gin and calm the fuck down.
But the younger parts were terrified. They knew that therapist Sienna isn’t supposed to speak to me like that. That the last time something like this happened, Sienna disappeared on sick leave for 6 weeks. Was this happening again?
Part of me wondered if Sienna really is a safe therapist. This behaviour isn’t good and isn’t professional. How can she be doing this AGAIN, so soon after the last rupture which we haven’t even processed together because it has traumatised me so much.
I didn’t reply.
Sofia, my protective teen part, raged up immediately. Furious. And so desperate to send a bitchy text it was unreal. The impulse to say something really sarcastic was overwhelming. Instead I distracted, I vented to a friend who was really very good at letting me say all the things I really wanted to direct at Sienna.
I waited to calm down. In fact I waited until the next morning when I couldn’t keep my anger in any longer.
I replied to her;
“ As your CLIENT…… am I supposed to consider all of that? I need you to refer me to your supervisor or to another therapist. I don’t feel safe with you anymore and I can’t keep doing this with you. I’m supposed to be able to tell you how I feel without getting a sarcastic mouthful back.
It’s not my fault you’ve piled your plate too high or have 3 jobs or time management problems. I didn’t do that to you. I am not in charge of your diary.”
I switched alters minute to minute and the young parts also added that they love her and do care if she’s stressed.
Sienna replied a few hours later, she’d been on a course and arranged to speak to me the next morning.
She apologised and took all responsibility. She said it highlight just how bad texting is for us and that she needs to remember to just arrange a call if I sound like I need her in text. I agreed.
We worked through the rupture really quickly and really easily. Last year that experience may have taken weeks to get over.
She was wrong. She had been human when she was supposed to be “therapist.” She said she’d felt like an over-wrought mother who just need her little child to “wait”. I told her I’d felt like a long-suffering teenager listening to her mother rant!
She also conceded that she’d loaded far too much on her plate before the break and she needs to get better at not trying to squeeze everyone in before she goes.
We laughed about it and we explained ourselves and I was glad she took all the responsibility and apologised (as she should!) I was glad we worked through the rupture so quickly.
I didn’t hang onto the terror of the young parts. I moved through the rupture. I accepted that whilst not good practice at all by Sienna, she did wholeheartedly apologise. And I recognised that this is what she’s like when outside of the therapeutic frame and stressed. I also understood that we’d BOTH made a mistake by falling back into texting.
I was able to reason how good she is in sessions. That these things only ever happen outside of the therapeutic frame.
I am not going to lie and say I don’t have vague concerns that she keeps doing this. It doesn’t feel good at all. I do question her abilities and her own mental health at times like this. But whilst I have these concerns, I also know we work tremendously well together for the most part. We seem to push each others buttons for sure and I’m not sure why that is.
I know we don’t have a traditional therapeutic relationship and as such more unusual things like this happen. And yeah I can hear the collective disapproval and concern from certain readers! I hear you!!!
But the reason I am telling you about it is to provide context for what I’m going to say next.
The way I’ve handled everything, right from the huge rupture last year to this recent mini but not insignificant one has been exemplary. I have grown in so many ways. My adult self has strengthened so much and I stay in quite a calm and adult place a lot of the time. My self-care has improved ten-fold. I can feel the child-parts and the teen parts without being overwhelmed and swallowed up by their emotions, I have practiced un-blending from them whilst also letting them know I’m a trusted adult who is there for them. I am not at the stage that I feel like they get comfort from that or even that we are all working together, but it’s a work in progress.
Yes, there’s still a lot of dissociation and switching at times. Not everything is perfect. I don’t always get it right, I am not miraculously cured.
But things have undeniably improved.
Tomorrow is my last session before this 3 week break commences. I am somewhat apprehensive because it’s a long time. But I am not utterly bereft and in a state of panic about it (unlike previous years). I am probably not going to spend the entire 3 weeks in a state of mourning.
I have a real solid sense of Sienna. I know she’s on holiday and is coming back. I know she thinks of me on her holidays. She searched Switzerland last July to find me a snow-globe. And she has promised to send me a couple of emails whilst she’s away this time. She did mention finding me a snow-globe this trip too, but who knows if she’ll remember saying that.
She thinks about me and she cares about me. And she will be back.
The fact I can really feel that to be true is real growth. It feels great.
However…. There’s always a however isn’t there?
At what cost? What has it cost me to grow that adult that I seem to remain in so often?
The truth is, I’ve felt the anxious stirrings of Keira, who gets very distressed and worried about Sienna leaving. I felt her need to cling to Sienna, to be close to her, to touch her, just to be in contact with her. She’s 6 and she gets clingy and floppy and just in need of constant hugs or attention.
However, experience has shown Keira that whenever she show her need – which is always around breaks, Sienna gets annoyed with her. As a break approaches, Sienna starts to pull away, lose contact slightly, the space for distressing memory closes as Sienna attempts to not introduce anything too upsetting before she leaves. Sienna gets more tired and Keira gets more demanding, more in need and more anxious.
Keira needs more, Sienna needs less. This is a pattern we’ve identified and has been the cause of many pre-break ruptures.
I have to admit, Sienna has done much better this time keeping in psychological contact with all the parts. Probably because we’ve kept to the therapeutic frame of session only work.
But once again, that text rupture this month has scared Keira and she thinks Sienna will be annoyed if she reveals her worries about the break. Sienna’s reaction proved to Keira that she’s not allowed to have feelings about the break.
For the past 4 weeks or so, whenever Sienna has asked if there’s any anxiety about the break I’ve felt the teens bristly and rile.
I hear them say “ WTF do you care? Why are you asking how we feel about it, because you only get annoyed when we talk about how we feel about the breaks. So STOP asking.”
I have pretty much refused in session to give space to talk about the break. I feel a bit like I don’t want to give Sienna the satisfaction of knowing I’ll miss her or that I need her that much. I don’t want to give her space to get annoyed with me about feeling anxious.
This break has been the smoothest feeling process since the beginning of therapy. I am handling it much better. I feel better.
But I also know Keira’s feelings never went away. That 6 year old child never did get properly heard and supported and coached and reassured into dealing better with holidays. She just learned to shut up because it made Sienna angry.
And that isn’t good enough to me. I feel SO much grief that once again that child has had to silence herself in order to please her attachment figure. She is once again looking after the needs of the adult (Sienna), she is adapting to a dynamic in order to avoid Sienna’s irritation, rejection or abandonment.
That isn’t healthy is it? It doesn’t feel it.
And this adult space that I now reside in a lot of the time? Day to day it feels much better. Everything feels much more manageable. It is allowing me to proceed comfortable in therapy and in life. It’s growth, it’s real….
BUT…. This adult was forged not from genuine growth and time and nurturing and a natural progression, it was forged from pain and terror and abandonment and rupture and crisis. She was bourn from need- from a drive to survive tremendous threat to my system, from trauma.
That doesn’t sound healthy either does it?
Even though the result is that I now have this coping adult place to reside and it is SO positive…. Can it really be a positive thing when once more it was in response to trauma and a need to adapt in order to not lose my attachment figure and also to cope with the changes?
When change occurs, if it is positive change, does it matter how we got there? Does the method matter if the result is a good one?
It wasn’t the way I wanted to find my adult self. I didn’t want her to be born from stress and terror. I wanted her to grow naturally and slowly from safety and consistency and care and nurturing. I wanted her to grow from years of positive input and lessons. I wanted her to grow through the stages of childhood and teenagehood, all of those needs expressed, not supressed. I wanted her to be the culmination of many years of careful, kind, nurturing input not created suddenly from a rupture.
It doesn’t feel good.
I know Sienna would want to know this. I know it’s really important to tell her. And writing about this is the first step to me processing how I feel and what I want to say to her.
Part of me doesn’t trust Sienna to respond in a way that’s needed or to hear it they way I need her to.
There seems to be so many processes at work right now that I can’t quite work out what is happening, what is truth.
I can say that I have grown, and that would be true. But I am also supressing a lot of the child parts in order to maintain that adult.
I can say that I feel deeply connected and safe with Sienna, but there’s also deep mistrust in her.
I can say that I am suppressing the child parts in order to keep my therapist and that would be truth too…. Yet child parts have been showing up in sessions regularly, so I am not entirely suppressing, even if it feels it.
I can say that I feel traumatised by our rupture last year, yet we have done some amazing work since and clearly I trust my therapist immensely. I really feel that in my bones and it’s that feeling that allows me to continue with her even after her massive fuck up two weeks ago.
There’s so many processes at work here. And I’m not sure how to categorise them. I’m not sure if growth at any cost is good. I’m not sure that growth even as real as it is, is okay even if the route there was negative and costly to my young alters. When we achieve growth or milestone, does it matter how we get there?
This new growth isn’t all it seems. All that glitters isn’t gold, as they say.