Today feels like the day it’s all going to unravel. I’m going to show him what’s real … and he is going to leave me.
Is it possible to be numb and panicking at the same time?
On Gratitude & Grieving
Today feels like the day it’s all going to unravel. I’m going to show him what’s real … and he is going to leave me.
Is it possible to be numb and panicking at the same time?
That vast ache
startles at the midnight wind;
a gnawing at the core of me
a hand around the throat
a stifled linen scream
a tight grasp of fragile bones
And this dark is bruised and absent
of a softened voice
a gentle hand
a place to curl into
And that longing ache is seething
for all the places you cannot be
for all the ways you’ve made me need
for all the ways you hold me
and for all the ways you leave
I don’t know who I am in this place, E. Or how to reach to you from here. I’m grasping at words that keep disappearing into feelings that aren’t mine. I can’t turn this person into poetry. I can’t look at you because I know I won’t understand my reflection in your eyes. I don’t know why you’re still here, or why I matter, or how you could care about me. I can’t look at you because I’ll think you’re lying. I imagine saying and doing every hurtful thing possible to keep you away from me. And, I imagine curling up in a little ball on the floor of your office, leaned into you and trembling. I don’t know which version of me is real. I can’t look at you … because I can’t bear to find out.
I am so confused and so angry and so incredibly far away. I don’t know how to make sense of this place; this overwhelming need for you … and this desperate determination to make you leave …
I am falling away, E … what if I look at you, and you disappear?
Christ almighty. I have no idea what just happened. E returned from his break yesterday. He emailed me first thing to check in. It was very sweet. He didn’t reply to my reply, but my session was today, so I figured we’d just follow up then. It’s always clunky and weird starting up the machine again, isn’t it? I was very fuzzy. I asked him to tell me about his holiday. He did. It was sweet and nice to see him smile, to feel his presence. I tried to tell him what the month had been like for me. I didn’t too particularly well. I started to go away somewhere, get heavy in my body. He seemed …. strangely …. cheery? God. That’s weird to write. It’s almost like he was happy to see me … so he wasn’t really attuned with the distress I was in. He even talked about not having to always ‘do the heavy stuff’ … that was in response to me talking about the fear in returning to the small person I become in therapy, though. I think he missed the mark a little … maybe he fell in love on holiday or something … who knows. It could just be me, though. I put on a good face and it can be pretty difficult to know what’s going on underneath that unless I explicitly say … which I don’t because I’m too busy trying to feel out whether or not there’s any room for the parts of me that are real and exhausted and distressed and begging to be held. After the session, it all hit me. It was sharp and heavy and heartbreaking. I thought about emailing E and telling him I want to quit. I’ve never done that before. I question myself so much with things like that … am I just trying to manipulate him? Do I actually want him to chase me? Do I really want to quit, or am I just being dramatic? Am I in therapy to process trauma or because I love E? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What if I reach out in need or uncertainty … I’ve never done that before. Anyway. I scaled my email down to one line: ‘E, is it possible the wheels are falling off already?’ – and a picture I drew of a plane crashing with a giraffe and a panda as co-pilots (inside therapy joke) … he hasn’t replied (it was only a few hours ago – but if he’s going to reply, it’s usually pretty fast). He also didn’t bring up or reply to the heartfelt email I sent after our final session last year. That kind of stung. It came from a vulnerable place … this one did, too. I’m starting to feel out the strange dynamic that exists when it comes to our between-session contact. Often he initiates it, or will ask me to send him something (because he knows I won’t do it unless he asks me too – we’ve talked about this being tricky because then I don’t know if I’m contacting him for him or for me. He said it doesn’t matter initially – to treat it like practice) … but … it seems like the times I’ve sent something in an actual feeling, showing any kind of need (rather than after the fact, when I’ve processed it or whatever) he doesn’t tend to reply to those kinds of emails. I guess I find that a little strange … like … I guess I feel to modulate myself in emails because I know what he’s more likely to respond to … I don’t think it should be like that … God, this therapy business is so tricky. I almost think there’s no real way to get it right. The power imbalance will always be there, will always endure above all else. That scares the shit out of me. He is such a good, ethical, wonderful human. He has every right to decide what he responds to and what he doesn’t. It’s lovely that he reaches out at all. But I can’t help but feel that sense of rejection when he doesn’t reply. I won’t fight him on it, though. What’s the point? It’d just make him more distant and closed off. I’m genuinely feeling like it might be time to take an extended break. I am so exhausted and so fucking tired of this whole fucking process. Without it, I feel very dull and numb. With it, I am dysregulated and in a great deal of pain – but for the most part, I feel awake. Probably none of this makes any sense. Which makes sense because I have no clue what’s going on. I can’t tell if it’s him or me. Has he changed or have I? Have we changed each other? He doesn’t feel as latched onto me as he did before. I don’t feel I can process the trauma without him as close to me as he was. I’m not going to beg for him to come back. Christ. I already know how pointless that would be. Is it manipulative for me to withdraw now? Is that the hope – that instead of begging him to come after me, I withdraw, hoping to trigger some kind of rescuer complex and him come in after me? I really don’t want to be like that … it’s not … intentional. It’s just … protective, I think? I suppose, in reality, I do want him to chase me a little … that feels safest … Do I want to leave therapy????? Maybe … not really … do I want it to feel like it did before? Where I could sense the intensity of his closeness and holding and it felt so deeply connected that it left me all erotically-transferencing after sessions? Yeah. That was a weird process. Trauma turned into something I could make pleasurable. Not about him … just around him … the space activating fear and pain and love and arousal because that’s what my abuse was … when I can feel E is truly connected with me, I know it because my body responds to that care. If he’s not … I don’t get the same … er … itch, I guess. It’s very conflicting and fucking weird, honestly. He doesn’t really know about this part. Although I’m sure he has some inkling of it’s existence (I tried to discuss it once and it just got weird and I shut it down and I feel like he may have tried to prod but I haven’t had the strength to go there yet. I know this is the big one, and I’m just not ready for it. I think he knows that). I’m confused and tired and I want this all to stop. I miss E. I love him so much. I miss feeling connected. I miss feeling like he loved me. What would it take for me to get that sense from him again? He’d probably have to want to fuck me because I don’t think I believe in his care without that. Sorry for the weird. This has been my day. Jesus Christ.
I honestly don’t know how to keep … being here … doing this … this life has been so fucking miserable. I’m tired of the lonely, of the empty, of feeling like there is nothing here for me. I have always done the holding, as far back as I remember, it was my role to take care of others. I did it well. In the small town I grew up in, people knew me as ‘the girl with her head screwed on’. Nobody saw what was underneath – the mess, the despair, the deepest exhaustion. Nobody knew I sliced into my skin for years as a teenager, or that I couldn’t stop myself from eating until I was ill. I was a good girl. I never went to parties, or had a toxic teen romance. I worked twenty hours a week and had perfect attendance at school. I helped my mother pay the rent. I bought my own school lunches. I didn’t have the option to fall apart, so I took care of everything. My mother, my friends, my job. I never expected someone to fix me. I did all the things right … I did all the things right.
And now, I look around at my life, and I am deadened by what I find here, how I find myself to be. Hopeless. Exhausted. Alone. Empty. Desperately longing to feel differently, to start over, to make my world look like that of others. And yet, so discouraged from even trying to do so. Because I am too tired. Because I don’t see the point. Because, at my very, I don’t want this life. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to fight so hard. I don’t want to ache like this, every fucking day for the next however many years. I never got the chance to live a normal life. I haven’t been able to do what people do – become a person, fall in love, go to parties and enjoy being there, be held without my body and mind collapsing into a state of terror and exhaustion. All that I’ve done, all of this time, is survive (and hold the pain of others – help them survive). All that I’ve done is scrape by because I’m not brave enough to end it. I don’t want this life. I don’t want to be this person. I don’t know how to fix myself. I don’t know where to go or how to be or what to do in this world. I don’t know what the point is of any of this. I don’t know why I’m still trying.
I already know I won’t send this to you. I am playing at some strange game in which I try to prove that I am strong; that I don’t need you; that you were never really here. I feel split off from myself. Distant. The part of me that clings to you is no longer within my reach. But I can hear her … somewhere far away, trembling and aching and searching for her way back into the world. This letter is for her.
How could you have left me like this? It is so cold and I am so alone. There is no place for me in the world if you aren’t here for me to reach to. You know that. How could you go? How can you say you care and then disappear as if you never existed. Your absence is a sticky black tar, consuming me, drowning me out, reminding me of the nothingness that I spent so much of my life suffocating inside of. How could you leave me in this? You said you would miss me, but you lied. None of this is real. You and me and the space between us. You lied, and it isn’t real. I can’t read your emails, or look at the drawings you sent me all that time ago. They bring me no comfort. Instead, they tug me back into the world that is too big and too frightening without you. They make me question everything … were you really here? There is tangible proof … and yet, you are gone. Vanished. There is no feeling about this. Just deadness. Blank. Heavy. Empty. Lost. Is this how everyone feels underneath everything? Is this all there is? Oh, god. What if this is all there is? I don’t miss you, E. Because you aren’t real. I made you up in my head and I cannot miss something that was never really there … can I? Don’t come back. I hope you don’t come back. Leave me here like this. It would be easier if you stayed gone. It would be easier if I stayed gone, too.
I’m not really sure where to start … or what to write … or why I’m even here. Things are so strange in my being at the moment. I don’t recognise any of it. The days are just disappearing into an endless heavy fog. I feel so exhausted. Today, I tried to go outside. It took me a few hours to get out the door, and when I eventually did, I stood under a tree for about five minutes then went back inside, took a shower, and got back into bed. What is even happening? I feel so far away from everything. Even writing this, my hands feel so heavy and my eyes can’t focus properly. Everything is blurred around the edges. I’m disappearing and nobody knows it’s happening. Nobody can see me. Nobody can hear me. I think, somewhere, I am crying, but it’s almost as if the cries don’t belong to me. The cries are blurry, too. I am not here in the world anymore. None of this feels real. I am so tired. I am so tired.
I have this very strange skill when it comes to disconnecting from people I love. E has gone away, and after a couple of days of intense longing, it’s almost like my brain has cut him off, like he was never really here to begin with. I’m not really okay. I feel both inside and underneath the heaviness. It feels like what they refer to as learned helplessness … I knew I couldn’t stop him leaving. I don’t have any desire to reach out to him. He’s become an abstract image in my mind, a memory I wonder if I’ve dreamt up. I’m not angry at him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen E as someone there to fulfil all my needs, or to protect me against existential terror. I’ve seen him vulnerable, too … held him in some ways … so that’s made for a very interesting dynamic … it’s like … there are elements of little person attachment to him threaded throughout our relationship, but it’s not the main fabric. Now he’s not here to engage with, to connect with, to hold me in the reality of how I feel in the world … I just feel this exhausted resignation, like suddenly realising I’ve been staring through painted windows all this time, pretending to grasp images and feelings of what could be outside. I don’t care he’s not here anymore. I’ve given up. I’m just so tired and I don’t want to fight like this for my whole fucking life – painting on windows that keep washing away.
I had my last session with E on Thursday. My mind has been in such a hazy, empty state that it’s hard to comprehend it was only two days ago. I already feel the longing, the subdued panic, the amplified need for reassurance. I am so scared about this time away from him. I went so long without needing anything from anyone, ever. I was determined to be independent and strong. I ‘re-parented’ myself. I held everything in all the right ways … I had no other option. But, since reconnecting with E, it’s almost like I’ve lost the capacity to do that, to hold myself in my distress. I think, before, it was like I was split, not fully embodied, because one part of me had to hold the other part of me. It wasn’t integrated … and now … the pain is full and complete and overwhelming, and I don’t know how to hold it away from me the way I used to. I so desperately need a place to rest. I am so tired and so scared. I am so lonely here.
In our session, I was somewhat distant, and it felt a bit like flitting along the surface of deep water, neither of us really wanting to dive in. I think a part of me felt like I had to show E that I’d be okay in his absence, but he caught that and we talked about how I might not be. I couldn’t describe how I was feeling, so I asked E how he was feeling about it all. He pondered my question for a moment, and then said simply, I think I’ll miss you, actually. I was taken aback. I hadn’t been expecting him to say that. I felt the words settle somewhere in my body and my eyes stung a little. I told him I couldn’t say it back, because it would make the feeling to real. He understood. At the end of our session, I offered an observation. I think, in this year of us working together again, I have learnt to trust you. I said. But maybe … maybe you’ve learnt to trust me too? E smiled. Yes, he said. I have.
That’s kind of where we ended it, and it was okay. During the session, he sent me an email of a drawing he’d done and showed me earlier in the week (we do Zoom sessions, by the way). He told me to wait and look at it after the session. I replied to his email later that day with a piece of writing which had spilled out of me after we’d finished up. I wasn’t totally expecting a reply, but when he didn’t, my heart began sinking into my belly like a cold, hard little stone. He’s gone. I realised. And I am alone again.
Some time ago, I had a consultation with a psychiatrist from the U.S who specialises in the treatment of complex trauma and the accompanying dynamics that can emerge in the therapeutic relationship. I’d requested a meeting with him because I’d returned to therapy with E after a two-and-a-half-year break caused by a rupture I didn’t even know was a rupture. Essentially, my attachment system had activated suddenly and unexpectedly, followed by a flood of early trauma memories that overwhelmed my body and mind. It’s a much longer story, but in short, E recoiled from me. I felt it happen and, sensing his discomfort and uncertainty, decided to move myself away. ‘I can’t rely on you forever, can I?’ I said to him. ‘I have to take responsibility for my own life. I have to land the plane myself.’ E, hidden behind his fear, agreed, and let me leave therapy (left me) at the most crucial moment of my work. Of course, I crumbled. It took years, a great deal of suffering, and about 6 attempts at finding another therapist before I had the courage to reach out to E and ask if he’d be willing to work with me again. I trembled for a week as I waited for his reply.
Six weeks later, our first session plunged me straight back into the deepest parts of my trauma-self. Everything opened all at once. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see. I was watching the world shrink and expand behind a distorted grey film. I was angry at desperate and overwhelmed and terrified. But, I sensed E was still unsteady. I could not show him what was happening inside of me. I knew he would leave again if I did.
So, I sought consultation with J, a specialist in complex therapeutic relationship dynamics. It was an incredible meeting in which I discussed my trauma history, my experience with E, and my current emotional state in response to re-entering therapy. J just knew. Everything. All of it. I’d never felt so heard or understood in my whole life. J made many astute observations, but there was one that stood out above all, one that settled into my bones, one that will remain a part of my being for as long as I exist in this place.
I told J about the moment I’d acknowledged E as a real person in my life (about a year into our therapy). ‘Suddenly, I wondered what he thought of me,’ I said. ‘I went in and asked him, what would have happened if I had actually let you matter to me, if I cared how you saw me, if I didn’t keep you in the box of ‘therapist providing a service’?‘ J smiled at my recounting, as if he knew exactly where my story was headed. ‘I asked E, what do you think of me? and he got all quiet and thoughtful and eventually said, I, I have to be really honest. I don’t want you (romantically/sexually). But I do wonder about you. I do care about you … and then I just burst into tears, full wailing sobs. I think it was the rejection, the I don’t want you, that caused my reaction. I didn’t really believe he could care about me, and not want me. That didn’t make any sense to my brain.’ J looked deep in thought and sat silently for what felt like a long time. Eventually, he looked up and smiled.
I don’t think it was the rejection that made you burst into tears, he said. I think, in that moment, E acknowledged you as real to him, and he became real to you. I think you were overwhelmed by feeling, because you found a home in him – and you’d never had that before.
I stared at J, stunned, a swell of emotion in my lungs, a sting of salt in my eyes. He was right. E had become my home: a place to rest, a place to go for comfort and for healing, a place to collapse into, a place to return to, a place to become …
A place I’d never had before.