Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.


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How things have changed

I turned on my laptop this evening to write a post*. I recently upgraded to Windows 10 and so now instead of taking me straight to the log-on screen, it displays a picture (is it a random one, or always the same? I have no idea) with the date and time in big letters.

Saturday, 6 August 2016.

All of a sudden I realised that it was the first time since 2013 that the day had come and (almost) gone, without me really noticing that it was the 6th of August. My therapist has often said that you know when you’re ready to leave therapy, when you no longer notice the holidays. Is it the case that you know when grief is truly done when you no longer notice the anniversaries?

The date is significant to me because it marks the day on which I had my last session with my ex-therapist, Jane. There is a section of this blog dedicated to her ; the first few months of my current therapy and also the first few months of my blogging, were taken up with grieving that ending, which was an enforced one due to the short-term nature of the support service through which I saw her.

I know that this is a relatively ‘minor’ anniversary and a different sort of grief, from losing a close family member, for example. I can fully imagine that those related anniversaries (birthdays, weddings, deaths) are never forgotten; that their character may change over time, but the dates are not just memories, but part of the fabric of life, of growing up maybe. Body memories as much as mind memories. But it was the first grief I had ever allowed myself to feel, and perhaps its intensity and its duration were reflective of it being a mixture of that present pain, and also past losses, not yet grieved.

I dreaded the first anniversary of losing Jane – and though I tried to exercise self-care, I ended up in self-sabotage and with feelings of great sadness and regret, which I was only able to write about some time later. The sadness was also mixed up with feelings of abandonment in relation to my current therapist – it was our first long summer break, and as was often the case in those days, I had expectations of how I wanted her to behave or what I wanted her to say, and when those things did not happen, I felt let down. The sadness of the anniversary was complicated by a resentment that that sadness had not been anticipated, remembered or acknowledged by my therapist (or so it seemed to me at the time).

Last year, on the second anniversary of losing Jane, I wrote about how much better I felt than I had expected. Although I had thought of Jane, my main thoughts were of my therapist, and how much I missed her. It was good to know that things had changed, and that my connection to my therapist was so much stronger. But it was also frightening, because it made me even more conscious of the fact that one day I would be grieving that relationship too, and I could not even begin (or bear) to imagine what that would be like.

This year, the anniversary feels different yet again. For one thing, as I started by saying, I hadn’t even realised it was an anniversary today, though I did think about it and wonder how I would feel, earlier in the week. I’m not sure how I feel about today’s ‘forgetting’ – guilty, I think, and worried. I can’t imagine ever forgetting to mark in some way, the date on which I eventually have my last session with my current therapist.  Though I didn’t notice until now what the date was today, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about Jane – she still comes up in conversation with my therapist, and I do still wonder sometimes whether I might see her around town. On the very rare occasions I find myself near her house, I drive past just to see if the same car is parked there. And the topic of Jane’s notes of our therapy sessions together formed a very significant part of my therapy just before Easter. She will always be important to me, for all the reasons I have previously described – and she gave me the name of my current therapist, for I which I will always be extremely thankful and grateful.

Last year I talked about missing my current therapist – and that is no less true now. Last year I talked about how recollecting my therapist’s words when I was on the phone to a friend, was comforting and helped me to feel that she was ‘real’. This year, it’s not only a case of recollecting her words – memories and thoughts of her are with me all the time, and almost everything reminds me of her in one way or another. The music that I play in the car is music that I’ve shared with her; when I have good times with my children I remember her telling me how important that is for all of us. When I shout at them instead, I remember how she says that it is always possible to mend. When I have distressing arguments with my husband I try and think of what she would suggest I do and say, and try and remember her telling me that not feeling loved is not the same as not being loveable. When I’m around flowers I think of her gardening metaphors and wish that she were around to tell me about them, and identify them for me.

This year I’m managing to hold her much more in mind – where ‘her’ is ‘new mother’, rather than whatever variant of her the different parts of chose to construct at different points in time: uncaring mother, disappointed mother, unthinking mother. Whenever I have felt disconnected and separated from my therapist during previous therapy breaks, it is because who she is became clouded by my past experiences and I no longer saw her clearly. I assumed that she would fit the pattern of my previous experience, rather than fully understanding that she was different, and was trying to offer me a new experience.

Whilst holding her much more in mind, I’m also managing to believe that she is holding me in mind too. I’m pretty confident that my ‘holding in mind’ has a different quality (and frequency!)  to hers; but the security and trust I feel means that I’m not dwelling on that, even though the feelings of ‘exclusion’ and ‘inequality’ still visit sometimes, which I think is usual during a break.  I know that she will think of me, and wonder how I’m doing. And she most certainly thought of me, and how the break would feel, before we parted company for six weeks; and she did as much as she could both to give me more time and sessions leading up to the break, and to give me things to hold onto and suggestions for how to stay connected, during the break. I go to sleep every night holding onto a stone that she lent me (one of a collection of mementos in her therapy room). I know where it came from and what she sees in the patterns on its surface. It connects me to her – and it is also an outward visible sign of that ‘new mother ‘relationship that I’m now trusting in.

It feels right that this anniversary should be marked by the sort of change that Jane would have been glad to see in me. I was never in any doubt that though the circumstances of our ending were difficult, she wanted only the best for me. And she gave it to me – in the form of introducing me to my therapist.

 

[* The post that I was going to try and write was ‘A new experience of mother, Part 3’. I don’t like taking long gaps between posts that are meant to link together and be part of a whole, and it’s a post I still very much want to write. It’s close to my heart, and important, and I want to share what I’ve felt, thought and learned about this subject. But I have had great difficulties with exhaustion over the last few weeks, and this has made it difficult to write in the evenings, and to keep to my usual ‘posting schedule’! So Part 3 will come……eventually. As for tonight, I knew as soon as I saw the date, what I had to write about….]

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Anniversary

Two years ago, on 6 August 2013 at 6.50pm, I walked out of Jane’s office (my ex-therapist) for the last time. I have included this clip, because this was the song that I played over and over again for several months after that day. It was our ‘break-up song’, if I can call it that. I have written about our brief therapy relationship, what it meant to me and how attached I became to her, in the ‘All about Jane‘ section of my blog. Losing her meant feeling the grief I had never let myself feel over losing anyone before. It was intense, often overwhelming; it took up the majority of my first eight months in therapy with my current therapist, and it wasn’t until eighteen months after that August day, and one year after I knew for certain I would never see her again, that I felt I had actually grieved her loss fully, and had finally accepted it. To realise that was painful, but also comforting at the same time, because it meant that I had grown closer to my current therapist.

The sixth of August 2014 – the first anniversary of that loss – was a very difficulty day for me. I felt let down that my own therapist had not remembered the significance of the date and had not contacted me by email. Although I had tried to exercise ‘self-care’ by watching a film and having a glass of wine, I had ended up giving in to the urge to internet-search and google Jane, and that made me feel incredibly bad about myself, and as if I had betrayed and sullied the memory of our relationship.

And so it was with some trepidation that I was ‘looking forward’ to the second anniversary of that loss, this year. But I am surprised. I am surprised at how much better I feel than I expected. I am surprised that Jane was not the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning. It didn’t feel like I was grieving anymore. I thought of Jane – but not in a way that caused me pain. I loved her and her smile – I still do. But the only feeling I was conscious of today was missing my current therapist. Wanting to be close to her – to see her again. Wanting to see her smile, and hear her voice. What a difference to last year, when I simply felt betrayed and let down by her. What a difference to when I was still in anguish over the loss of someone I had idealized and still missed dreadfully.

It’s encouraging to realise how much things have changed – to realise how attached I have become to my current ‘therapy’ (as my therapist would say – and I feel like saying: “No! Attached to you! To my therapist! Let’s tell it how it is!“). But at the same time it is scary – progress in general is scary. It would almost feel more comforting if I was in bits about Jane, as I was last year. Or in bits about not having my current therapist around at the moment. I don’t like being okay. Change is difficult to handle – but most difficult to handle is the thought that change means that this current therapeutic relationship, which I am so incredibly attached to, will eventually need to be grieved as well. Maybe not in quite the same way as I grieved Jane – because that relationship ended prematurely, before we were done, before I had made much progress. But it will be grieved nonetheless. And yet…..

I had a lovely phone conversation with one of my best friends yesterday. And part of that conversation involved talking about some of the things my therapist and I had discussed, and the impact it had made. It was part of a wider conversation on the topic of children growing up, and the discussion I had had with my therapist just naturally came to mind. And I thought: is this how it will be, in years to come, when I no longer have her physically with me in session, but I carry her and her words with me, internally? She felt woven into the fabric of my life; it felt natural to recollect her and her words. It felt comforting, and real, and special. That, in itself, was a big surprise, given how difficult it normally is for me to retain a sense of her reality and her presence, particularly during a therapy break.

When I thought about it later, it felt wonderful – but frightening at the same time. I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know it will be a long time yet before I do. But I am so so not ready to say goodbye. SO not ready, that I am crying as I write these words. Even to glimpse that goodbye, from a distance, and to acknowledge its inevitable reality, is painful. But there is hope in knowing that her presence can still feel wonderful in her absence.

Because one day, these will be her anniversaries that I will be writing about – and I need to know that I won’t feel cold and alone, but warm and in her company. That one day we will reach a point where she can never really leave, and I can never really be left.

But not yet. Not yet.


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Uncensored: jumbled thoughts, post-therapy pain

[Usually, I like my posts to have a structure – a beginning, middle and an end. This post is a departure. It has a great many beginnings, some middles and no real end. It’s mostly failed beginnings, as I tried to start over and over and over again. At some point I gave up and simply started writing down thoughts as they came to mind. Paragraphs. Single sentences. At another point I started writing aborted beginnings again. There is no logical structure – and a fair amount of repetition.

It was a few days ago – and three hours after my last therapy session. I was hurting and I was very confused. For the last few sessions as well as dealing with the ‘content of therapy’, we kept coming back to the ‘process of therapy’ itself, which for me, was rapidly becoming a major part of the content. It felt as though almost every thought, feeling or conversation I was having, was coming up against a way in which I was wanting therapy or my therapist to be something other than what they were. I was finding it difficult to accept them, and therefore to be open to what they could give me. 

I know there is no ‘route map’ for therapy. That some of the most renowned therapists have no idea how the process actually works – they just know that it does. And so I have always tried to accept the uncertainty of not really knowing how therapy was going to unfold or what my precise destination was. But recently, and particularly at my last session, I felt completely lost, with absolutely no sense of what I was meant to be doing, of how I should behave, or of what might constitute progress; while at the same time feeling that those thoughts were ‘wrong’ because there was no ‘right way’ of proceeding in these matters.

So these, for what they’re worth, are my jumbled thoughts and feelings, as they were at the time. I share them not because they are particularly helpful or insightful, or explanatory – but only in case someone else may be feeling exactly the same way, and may want to know that they have company in those feelings, and that some of them, at least, may be short-lived. I no longer wish to undo what I have been doing; I don’t regret trusting (to whatever extent I may have done that), taking risks, loving. But I’m still confused – about many things. And I’m still not sure how to ‘do therapy’ – if not ‘better’, then at least in a way that is more helpful to me. But, as my therapist said, the more I can simply experience it rather than analyse how I’m doing it, the more we can work on together. Including what that ‘togetherness’ actually means.]

I feel horribly confused. Nothing makes sense. I feel diminished. Hopelessly diminished. Or hopeless and diminished, or both.

***

Maybe I should try and see her as my doctor. As just a professional who’s there to help me. But that is what she is, isn’t she? And maybe not constantly reminding myself of that is the biggest part of the problem.

***

I feel as though I want to undo everything that I have done or that has happened since I entered therapy. All the progress I thought I’d made, all the things I thought I’d realised. The way I thought I’d trusted and opened myself up. The acceptance I thought I’d felt. It all feels like a lie or a massive self-deception.

***

I feel numb with a dense ball of pain inside my chest. Squeezed up so tight, so that the rest of me can just be unfeeling and still, while a little part sits still and hurts.

***

If this is all just material for therapy, how does therapy work? I can emotionally disengage from the emotion – that’s fine. I can treat it as ‘material’ – but that involves even greater compartmentalisation, not less.

***

The world was safer before therapy. I may have been dysfunctional but I understood my dysfunction. It worked, it kept me safe. I knew what the end goal was – protection and survival. Now I have no idea what I’m striving for.

***

I feel diminished. As if everything I thought I’d understood was a lie or a convenient piece of self-deception. As if every time I felt a sense of acceptance it was based on an error. My error. It feels as though I can never get it right.

***

I don’t want to be a bother. All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.

***

I feel as though everything I thought I’d understood or achieved over the last two years was a make-believe story – a convenient piece of self-deception. Every little piece of ‘acceptance’ feels empty, illusory, based on a misunderstanding or misapprehension about what was going on. I feel diminished. Utterly diminished.

***

So the goal of therapy is to understand where these feelings come from. But who’s going to pay attention to the experience of the feelings themselves? What do I do with them? How do they go away? Are they even real? Or am I simply my own interpreter? Who experiences me? Are the feelings only the instrument of understanding?

***

I can’t write and it’s driving me crazy. I feel gagged, bound up, trussed by an inability to express myself to myself.

***

I feel diminished. I don’t understand. I feel like there is nothing of me left, except the edifice that I knocked down and that now needs to be built up again. I wish I’d never trusted. I wish I’d never let myself feel.

***

I feel as though nothing I say, do or feel is right. I’m not even right to think and feel that there is a right way to think and feel. I am caught up in vicious circles that it seems impossible to escape. I’m trying to step outside my worldview to put it right, but just like stepping outside of language, that’s impossible. It’s a task that can only happen from within – but I have no idea where to start.

***

“Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! “ *

***

Therapy means always thinking about what the feelings mean and what they’re telling me. If I’m missing her it has to be because of ‘this’ or ‘that’ or because she’s representing ‘so-and-so’ or ‘a.n. other’. Is there no room for me just missing her? Is there no room for the experience being meaningful and not just its interpretation? I can bring the feeling to therapy and we can talk about it. But who deals with the feeling in the moment? What deals with it? Do I just file it away for future reference? As I have always filed feelings away? Oh look, I miss her. Isn’t that interesting. Let’s talk about it in two days time. Won’t that be nice. The fact is I miss her and it’s visceral and it’s real and the only antidote feels like some comfort, a sense of her presence or some simple words.

***

Is she only ever a representation? Not real within herself? At least, not to me? Only ever a projection?

***

I need to get my head around the fact that she shouldn’t mean this much to me. That she should be like a doctor or a colleague. Someone there to help me with a problem but not to get emotionally invested in.

***

I dreamed that I had a building made of white lego, with a white terrace at the top with lots of tables and chairs on it. I dreamed that I started to dismantle the lego and take the supporting bricks out from under the terrace. In the end, it was like a letter ‘U’ laying on its side. A bottom, and a top, with nothing in between. It looked and felt fragile, with no underpinning. What would happen to that terrace?

***

I feel like that lego structure. I feel diminished. As if everything I thought I’d understood and felt in connection with therapy, has been dismantled. Over the last two years I thought I was building something – but now I realise it’s all just air.

***

I felt accepted at least partly due to a sense of freedom to express myself and make myself and my needs known, in the moment, rather than being held back always by politeness, or fear, or propriety, or wanting to protect her from myself. Spontaneity and freedom as opposed to constant questioning, over-thinking, rumination, self-doubt, anxiety. And all without judgment. But that was a mistake.

***

I don’t want to be any trouble. All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.

***

Maybe it would work better if I saw her just as a professional who is there to help me with something. But that is exactly what she is. And perhaps that is the heart of the matter.

***

She is just a professional there to help me. Repeat after me. Endless times, please. Until I can believe it. Until I can act on it.

***

But for me professional means unemotional and unattached. No connectedness. If she is just a professional there to help me I should be able to go in, talk about how I’m feeling, have a conversation, leave, feel better or perhaps not feel better. But not think about her. Not dream about her. Not want to be close to her. Not miss her. Not want to share everything with her. I wouldn’t feel that way about my doctor – so why should I feel that way about her? It feels like I’m trying to talk myself into something and I don’t even know if it makes any sense.

[* quote from ‘Asleep’ by Wilfred Owen]


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Memory Monday – “Waiting to fall – BPD and obsessive attachments”

With the exception of my ‘Home page’ and my post on BPD and invalidation, this week’s Memory Monday post has had more than three times the number of views of any of my other posts. It is by far the most consistently viewed post; and the most frequent search engine terms that lead people to my blog, are centred on obsession and attachment.

These are powerful feelings that evoke powerful responses, which can include shame and guilt. Obsessional emotions can ‘feel wrong’; they can make us wonder what it is about ourselves that means that we get taken over so completely by a force we feel unable to control – a force entirely centred on another human being. The obsessional feelings may be temporarily intoxicating, but something inside may nag at us, wondering if this is all a sign of deep trouble. What does it mean? Why me? Do other people feel this way?

If you feel the way described in this post, you are certainly not alone:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/06/21/waiting-to-fall-bpd-and-obsessive-attachments/

I searched for information on obsessions, when I was in the middle of a particularly difficult obsession with a friend. I may have written this post many months ago, and I may have had particular individuals in mind when I wrote it, but it is as present and as difficult an issue for me now, as it was then. Whether the feelings relate to a friend, a partner or a therapist, the intensity of an obsessive attachment has brought me, repeatedly, both the most intense highs and the most painful lows. It seems to me that therapy, in particular, is a cruel form of unrequited love in which attachment can be necessary for healing, but the boundaries of the relationship may serve to make the obsessional nature of the attachment even more painful. 

I have tried, in this post, to give a very personal take on what an obsessive attachment feels like, how it comes about, and why it happens. We will all have our own particular versions of ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’, but I hope there is enough commonality here that my main purpose will have been achieved – that you will feel less alone with these feelings. Less shame, less judgement; more understanding and more acceptance. I think our obsessive attachments are trying to tell us something – and if we’re in therapy (or even if we’re not), it may be a major part of ‘moving forward’ to try and work out what that is……

 


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Why I won’t be writing a blog post this weekend

[Quotes are from ‘Love the way you lie Part II’ by Rihanna, featuring Eminem]

“On the first page of our story
The future seemed so bright
Then this thing turned out so evil
I don’t know why I’m still surprised
Even angels have their wicked schemes
And you take that to new extremes
But you’ll always be my hero
Even though you’ve lost your mind.”

For three months I listened to no other music but this song. I listened to it on repeat – hundreds, thousands of times. It was my break-up song – the break up of a long-standing friendship that was an almost-fatal casualty of BPD. But not just my BPD – hers too.

Until two years ago she knew nothing of my mental health difficulties. Until two years ago, we were fine. And then I told her, and we were no longer fine. For six months we were caught in a constant cycle of push-pull on both sides, which fed off itself like nothing else, as we constantly triggered each other. To add fuel to the fire, I developed an obsessive attachment for her, and that fanned the flames of our already destructive relationship. I experienced frequent ‘splitting’ towards her – she was perfect, she was evil. She told me she could cope with that – she lied.

“In this tug of war you’ll always win
Even when I’m right.”

In the end, it wasn’t the ‘push’ that pushed her away, it was the ‘pull’. I killed her with kindness. I sent her so many friendly, caring, overly affectionate messages, so many messages asking her to visit and talking about all the things we would do when she did – that she felt pressured, persecuted and manipulated. The longer she stayed silent, the more persistent I became. I can’t deny that somewhere deep inside I knew where this was going; that part of me was steering the ship towards the iceberg that would quicken its sinking. On some level, I’d known for months that this was coming. On many occasions, I had been desperate to cut her out of my life completely; desperate to escape the feelings of powerlessness and dependency that she triggered in me.

“And it’s sick that all these battles
Are what keeps me satisfied.”

This song is about domestic violence. I never laid a finger on her, except to hold her, crying, in my arms. But I felt every inch the abuser; the emotional abuser. I was guilt-ridden and tormented by the thought that the part of me that was addicted to intensity had been feeding off the emotional storm of our relationship. That part of me had been sustained by the energy of the roller-coaster ride, though it turned our lives upside down and made us sick with pain.

“So maybe I’m a masochist
I try to run but I don’t wanna ever leave
‘Til the walls are goin’ up
In smoke with all our memories.”

Thankfully, the waters of our friendship ran too deep even for obsession and BPD to suck them dry. Or maybe we were just lucky that having faced only six months of hell, and both being supported (by this point) by caring therapists, we were able to slowly start to rebuild our friendship and talk about where things had gone wrong. I am no longer attached to her in the same way, and our friendship will never be quite the same again. Maybe that’s a good thing –  but I also think that we will always, to some extent, trigger each other.

The last time I saw her, around four months before we ‘broke up’, we spent a whole day closeted in her flat, engaged in intense and sometimes distressing conversations. On the one hand, seeing her was wonderful. But it was also one of the worst weekends of my life. I was full to the brim of emotions that were there but that I couldn’t connect with, couldn’t feel and couldn’t express. I desperately needed to cry but no tears came. I had an overwhelming desire to self-harm, my frustration levels were through the roof and I felt as though my insides were one massive itch that I could not scratch. By the end of the weekend I wanted to die and it was all I could do to stop myself pulling over on the car journey back home and ringing another friend to tell her that I felt like driving  into the central reservation.

She is coming to visit me this weekend. It will be the first time I have seen her since things went so horribly wrong. The first time in eighteen months.

Wish me luck.

 


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Hope

rainbow hope final

When you have BPD, hope can feel like such a precarious state. Any hint of it feels more like ‘hoping against hope’: hoping in the face of hopelessness; hoping even when one is abandoned by hope. We’re so aware of the shifting nature of our sense of self and the volatility of our emotions, that we cannot believe that hope will last. We’re so used to every positive situation being tinged with something dark, that sometimes hopefulness simply feels like misery in disguise.

I remember being asked by a therapist a couple of years ago, what I would want if she could just wave a magic wand and make anything at all happen. I sat there with tears rolling down my face, completely unable to think of anything to say. It wasn’t a case of not being able to decide, or not knowing what I wanted. It was the fact that the very concept of a future – any future, let alone one that was ‘better’ than the present – was completely unthinkable. I simply could not see beyond the present pain, and hadn’t been able to, for quite some time. The ‘future’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.

A few months later, a different therapist referred to the progress I had been making in one particular area, as ‘a success’. My resulting tears seemed to baffle her, but somehow I found it difficult and distressing to think of anything I had been doing, as ‘a success’. Success had always been so important to me – but having a reached a state in which I felt little control over my life, and had little self-esteem, the concept of succeeding at anything, was also unthinkable. It was too painful to be praised. ‘Success’ spoke of hope – but I had been abandoned by hope.

They say that hope sustains life – but it seems to me that love sustains life long enough to give birth to hope that that sustenance will continue. If I felt abandoned by hope, it was because I felt abandoned by love. Abandoned in the present, and in a way that I’m still trying to properly understand, abandoned in the past. I remember very clearly the strong desire, when growing up, to be loved unconditionally by someone who did not have the biological imperative to do so. My ex-therapist called this ‘confused thinking’: I thought that parents were programmed to love their offspring unconditionally, and yet in her mind, this was a contradiction in terms. Love is not about programming but about acceptance – and while thinking that my parents loved me unconditionally, I was also very aware of the areas in which I ‘fell short’, did not meet expectations, or was something other than what I was desired to be. Hence the need to be loved by somebody who chose to love me – choice implied acceptance, something I did not feel I had.

For the first time in a long time, this week I felt a glimmer of hope. Not hope in the face of hopelessness, but hope in the face of possibility – the possibility of recovery, and the possibility of change. For the last couple of weeks I had come away from my therapy sessions hurting immensely. Incapable of asking for reassurance directly, I allowed fears over lack of acceptance to spiral out of control, such that everything my therapist said (or didn’t say) contributed to the excruciating sense that I was unwanted, disliked and uncared for. In my last session I could barely speak, paralysed by fear of further hurt and an overwhelming desire to just shut down. I was drifting in and out of being emotionally present, but she reached out to me, and gradually, we began to work through how I was feeling, and I managed to be honest with her about my need to have her articulate her feelings and her reassurance clearly.

Ultimately, that session gave me a glimpse, more than anything else has ever done, of the transformative power of the therapeutic relationship, and that glimpse has given me hope. I have always struggled to understand how psychotherapy works and how it can lead to recovery. Although I enjoy the satisfaction of uncovering the subconscious and making links between the present and the past, I have always known that therapy is not an intellectual exercise, and the more I find out about myself, the more I wonder what I am meant to be doing with the information. Equally, although there is a certain cathartic release in connecting with powerful emotions during therapy, re-experiencing past trauma does not lead to change if the experience is simply a repetition, with the same end result, and no corrective emotional re-interpretation.

However, there were three amazing outcomes from that session that have resulted in the hope that I cling onto now. I realised that although it is easy for me to feel hurt, it is also easy for me to feel loved. That feeling is very hard to hold onto, but that is why I need my therapist’s reassurance and caring to be explicitly stated – I need to hear the words, so that I can remember them, and so that I can recall them when I need them most. Those words and phrases don’t just help to build trust, they are the foundations of that trust, because their recollection can help to keep the whole edifice from crumbling (as it did for me over the last couple of weeks) when it is the subject of internal attack.

With growing amazement, I also realised that my therapist had responded to my needs and had made a commitment to continue to do so. It’s hard to explain how deeply it touched me to know that someone was trying to meet me ‘where I was at’. To know that I had been heard and my viewpoint accepted; to know that I hadn’t had to justify how I felt or be ashamed of it; to know that it was possible for me to voice my feelings and my needs, and for something to change as a result. I still find it hard to get my head around, and it still feels awe-inspiringly humbling.

Humbling, because I know how very different her worldview must be to mine, in order for her to be able to respond in that way. To be able to respond to my needs without fear or threat of ‘losing control’, ‘being manipulated’, or ‘being pushed too far’. To be able to meet me where I am rather than either distancing herself from me or being swamped by my emotions. I used to wonder about strength of her boundaries, because I was unused to the degree of self-disclosure that she seemed happy with, compared to other therapists I had worked with. However, any doubts I might have had have been completely blown out of the water. It seems to me now, that her ability both to share some of herself and to change how she works in order to respond to me, is a function of the strength of her own sense of identity and her own boundaries. And that is why what I say or do cannot threaten her or push her away, and the converse of those qualities also explains why my own reaction to some very triggering relationships, is the opposite of her own reaction to me.

The final outcome of that session was a brief realisation just before I drifted off to sleep a few nights ago. It was a beautifully simple and surprising moment: it seems strange to call it a ‘revelation’, as the thought seems, on one level, so obvious. But it was an emotional revelation, if not an intellectual one – I knew it because I felt it, and because I felt it, it gave me hope. Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. For so many nights over the last couple of years, my comfort before going to sleep at night has derived from the pain following self-harming – the pain which felt like a big enveloping hug. It scares me to say it, but this comfort felt better.

Feeling loved for who we are, makes us feel freer and stronger. It sends a shiver down my spine. I dare not hope.

But hope I do.

 

[The sustaining power of explicit reassurance and caring, brought to mind one of my favourite passages from ‘Get me out of here: My recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder’ by Rachel Reiland. In that passage, Rachel’s therapist says to her: “You survived by seizing every tiny drop of love you could find anywhere, and milking it, relishing it, for all it was worth. And as you grew up, you sought love, anywhere you could find it, whether it was a teacher or a coach or a friend or a friend’s parents. You sought those tiny droplets of love, basking in them when you found them. They sustained you. For all these years, you’ve lived under the illusion that somehow, you made it because you were tough enough to overpower the abuse, the hatred, the hard knocks of life. But really you made it because love is so powerful that tiny little doses of it are enough to overcome the pain of the worst things life can dish out. Toughness was a faulty coping mechanism you devised to get by. But, in reality, it has been your ability to never give up, to keep seeking love, and your resourcefulness to make that love last long enough to sustain you. That is what has gotten you by.” ]