Life after therapy
The first part of this piece, contains extracts taken from journal entries, because I think they accurately depict the state of mind I had from day to day, after therapy initially ended. I really wanted to capture how I was feeling at the time in this piece, and how this changed from one day to the next. The initial choppy seas, did calm eventually………….
Wednesday. My body has really crashed and is now riddled with illness (a painful lymph gland infection, an ear infection and a throat infection). The antibiotics I was prescribed, have stripped my appetite, I feel really ill, mixed with a sadness and a sense of loss, after therapy ended yesterday. Despite this, I still went to my usual gym class this morning, as I needed a reason to keep going. I caught the eye of the instructor half way through the class (who happens to be my dear friend) and I told her, I didn’t feel very well. The class was just too much, for the way I was feeling and she suggested I go home. In that moment, I felt so ill and I had no fight left, so I decided to take my dear friend’s advice. I have never left a gym class, ever! I cried all the way home and I am sure that the tears were not solely due to leaving the class.
I buried myself in clearing and tidying out cupboards, wardrobes and toys when I got home, instead of resting and giving my body time to recover. I was half in a strop with myself and my failing body and half trying to avoid any kind of thinking or feeling. I was in full swing with bin bags of rubbish piling up in the hall way, when my dear friend turned up at my house, with cake and flowers to cheer me up.
In the midst of my impulsive ‘big clear out’, my ‘pile of childhood’, was on the sofa when my friend arrived (the only things I have from that part of my life: paperwork, photographs and medical records). Over coffee and cake, we spent some time looking at my mum’s wedding photos together. I noticed that while sharing these with my friend, I felt no emotional attachment to them; I felt nothing at all.
I deliberately kept myself busy for the rest of the day, maintaining a steadfast pace, with the clearing and sorting out of meaningless, damaged and un-needed life stuff. I went to bed early as I had worn myself out. Maybe I am taking a little time out to regroup?
Thursday. I cried before I even got out of bed this morning, triggered by a local charity’s promotional video that sprang up on my social media. Sometimes I just need something to spark me off, before my stuff comes in too, to the point where I am not sure what I am crying about any more. Despite still being poorly, I decided that today was operation “Christmas shopping completion and wrapping day” (yes in October!). I feel like my mental desk is a little clearer now, with the clearing and tidying started yesterday and the Christmas stuff nearing completion today.
I think my body has crashed in response to the overwhelming fear I had about therapy ending, but I’ve not even allowed myself to be ill. I’m scared. I feel like my safety net has gone and I don’t want to risk breaking, or starting to feel sorry for myself due to being ill, so I have diverted my attention and focus.
I know what I am doing and I know why I am doing it. It’s not what I thought I would do and not what I expected. I really thought that I would carry on with the work after therapy ended. I thought I would keep writing and keep talking, but I have not even been motivated to journal so far this week, and I am catching up on writing entries now. I’ve not really acknowledged any thoughts. I have completely distanced myself from my ‘shit’ and I have shut down. None of this stuff needed to be done yesterday or today. I’ve been fighting against my body, instead of giving it the time it needs to heal. Self punishing? Probably.
Friday. I went to my mindfulness course, housed at my therapy provider’s building and I was glad I was the only attendee today. It meant the facilitator and I, could have a different kind of session and a much deeper conversation than normal, which I think I needed. Today’s main focus was “thoughts are not facts” and I was given a handout, which contains questions I feel I can ask myself when I become overwhelmed. I was able to explain that I have a rational brain and an irrational reactive brain. Often when I feel overwhelmed, there is a chain reaction, which mushrooms in my head. I think I can use this list, to try and separate and disengage the emotional brain, from reacting to the thoughts that enter my head.
I discovered today, that the feeling of trapped emotion I have had (and written about), started in my stomach when I was a child. This moved to my chest when I began disclosing 6 years ago, and again at the start of therapy. Now this emotion resides in my throat. I read an article a few weeks ago, about how the throat area, is a gateway; for food to go in, and air (all the things that keep us here). Through writing, I found my voice. Every single time I get sick, it is usually throat related. It makes a lot of sense, after today’s mindfulness session and conversation, why I should struggle with this area.
My kids were messing around at homework time today, which saw me throw a monster tantrum, scream, shout and slam a few doors; a disproportionate reaction to a relatively normal situation. I felt guilty. I am ill, tired, stressed and in pain and everyone is allowed an off day, right? I made a huge connection today: I do something that I am not proud of, then I feel guilty for it and this leads to self harming behaviours. I should not feel guilt for behaving like a brat, but I do; the guilt response is ingrained. I was blamed for everything as a child, I felt guilty and I desperately tried to make whatever had caused it up to my mum, to no avail.
I’ve allowed my self to think and feel a little today, but I feel quite alone and cautious.
Saturday. Today was my youngest son’s first swimming lesson and it was completely traumatising. I watched my son walk down the steps, in to the pool, loose his footing and go under the water: nobody but me saw. I don’t think I trust these people (the swimming teacher and the lifeguards) to look after my baby. When I get in the car, with my children, and drive, every single time it is a risk, but I am in control. I discovered today that surrendering this control to a stranger, in a life or death situation in the pool, is very hard. When the swimming teacher and the life guards did not see, within the first minute, that my child was under the water, how am I supposed to trust them? I could feel the emotion getting the better of me at the time and my eyes filled with tears. The swimming teacher saw me getting panicky and came over to talk. He placed the aide, who was in the water, with my son to reassure me. I’m sure these are normal parts of learning to swim, but this is my baby.
A conversation with a friend, about music, that makes us cry, saw me revisit 1997 this evening. The No Doubt track ‘Don’t Speak’ was the first song to make me cry and it happens to be the first single I ever purchased. Back in 1997, and whenever I have allowed myself to talk about my life then, I used to feel like I was out of body. It was like watching what was happening to me from the outside and almost like I was telling someone else’s story. Since therapy began, I am back in my own body, telling my story and I hear music very differently.
More cleaning and sorting of cupboards and life stuff happened today.
Sunday. I fancied wine tonight, but I continued to abstain because I don’t think alcohol is wise at the moment. (I have not had alcohol for 9 weeks following “self destruct night”). The deadline for secondary school applications, is fast approaching and I sat down to do this tonight. I struggle with the ‘big adult decisions’ I have to make, which affect my children, because I feel like I don’t have a point of reference. I worry about whether I am doing the right thing, but I felt quite confident pressing the send button on this decision and so far it is a decision that I have not questioned. My mental desk is a little clearer still and I feel pretty accomplished right now, especially with how ill I have been feeling.
It felt like it was the right time, to start thinking and feeling something today, so I listened to the No Doubt track, while looking up the lyrics consecutively. There is lots of lyrics in this track, that I would like to have said to my mum back in 1997. It contains; some of the things I would have said; some of the things I couldn’t say; and some of the things I wished were the case but weren’t. It also captures the things I tried to make myself believe, just to get through the distress I was feeling at the time. I like the gentle and the angry bits in this song, encompassing both beautiful and painful feelings.
My son’s swimming lesson yesterday stirred something in me. I got so emotional as I felt my level of panic rise. The deep sense of loss I would feel, if anything were to happen. The amount of love I have for my children. It makes me sad, that I never felt that level of love from my mum. She was unloving and un-nurturing and abusive in her own way and she seemed not to care. She did not see what her husband was doing, or how broken I was, yet I saw my baby go under the water when nobody else did. On the other hand, this song makes me sad, because for a long time I held my mum entirely responsible for the sexual abuse I suffered; but that was not her fault.
I am allowing more thoughts to come in to my head today, but my inner little kid (the youngest one) is saying “be careful” to me. I continued to allow the thoughts to come in and I was shown a flashback, of my dad holding my hand on the hob as he turned it on, in my parents house, while my mum was out feeding her horse. Looking back now, I think I became a little desensitised to the enormity of what was happening, because this was just one incident of many. Being shown this flashback, reminded me that despite the fear I had, I remember the fight I had in my belly. If something was not right, or was unfair, I voiced it. But I could not verbalise what he did!
Monday. I woke feeling physically much better today. I took my two youngest children to the gym with me this morning and I left my eldest at home. This was another ‘big adult decision’ that I did not question. After my morning gym class, I declared today a chill out day, which involved more procrastinating and general avoidance of thinking and feeling. I did the whole of my ‘take a break’ magazine in the space of a few hours, while the kids were playing.
My thoughts turned to the fact, that I am going to miss not having a therapy session tomorrow. I feel like something in my head has switched off and I need it switched it back on. I think I am nervous and more so, because it is half term and the kids are around. I have to be OK for them and my safe space to go and ‘let it out’ weekly, is no longer there. I am annoyed at myself because the urgency, focus and drive I had, throughout the whole course of therapy, has dwindled. I still have work to do!
Tuesday. Today is the day that I would normally be going to therapy and I really did not want to get up this morning. I was so tired, I had a headache and I just did not want to do today. My body failed me and I woke very early for the toilet, but I went back to sleep. When I did wake, I discovered the kids were up, had fed themselves breakfast and were sat watching T.V. together. Bad mummy!
As the morning went on, I was struggling with the level of noise in the house, with 3 kids at home on half term. I needed to get out, and I particularly did not want to be in the house at the time I should be at therapy. I really feel like I have lost something. My safe place to be. So I decided to take the kids out for a bit and we went to purchase Halloween costumes, Firework display tickets and items for their individual classes’ Christmas hampers. Even though I feel quite emotional today, the kids saw ‘normal’, so that is an achievement.
I have deliberately made myself too busy to really think this week, but the pull to 1997 is still prevalent. I am trying to figure out now, how I am feeling, but because I have been blocking, I am finding this hard. I feel like I have paused? I feel like I don’t know what I need to do next. I have a few things lined up to write about, but what am I supposed to do after that? Everything feels a little fuzzy and the clarity has gone. I feel a little lost.
Lessons after therapy
It was a few weeks after the end of therapy, when I felt like my equilibrium was nearing restoration. There was no big switch, no magic wand-waving, in-fact no real defining moment that I can pinpoint at all; I just noticed that it became, not quite so hard to get up every morning. I observed myself laughing more and involving myself in more conversations. I noticed and listened to how I was feeling in a more comprehensive way and I felt much more connected, with myself and what I needed.
I started to notice I was taking more pleasure in the simple things, such as styling my daughter’s hair or reading a book with my youngest. I started to want to take better care of myself, by doing little things, like painting my nails. I felt like I came out of the box a little, or at least pushed the walls of it away. I no longer felt like I was swimming around in my own head, overwhelmed and drowning in flashbacks and memories, thoughts and feelings all the time. I kind of took control. I decided that I could take control. I allowed myself to think and feel, when it was convenient to me, and I didn’t when I simply wasn’t up to it. I was setting boundaries.
When the threat of therapy ending first came up, the thought of holding it together, with no planned time to vent and no safe place to fall apart, was scary. After a few weeks of being ‘on my own’, I started to feel more positive in general and I was OK, despite not having therapy to rely and fall back on. I think that the fear I had, was based on a belief, that I was holding it together from one session to the next, only because that next session was coming. To my surprise, three or four weeks after therapy ended, I found that I was coping.
Don’t get me wrong, my days were not suddenly filled with unicorns, rainbows and cupcakes. There were many days that contained numerous ups and downs, but I seemed to be able to dig myself out of the ‘doom and gloom’ a little quicker. There have been plenty of moments, where I have felt out of control and extremely disproportionately reactional and the strength of this particular spiral, is still overwhelming in it’s strength. I have felt weak, with no fight power left and there have been days, when the need to indulge in self harming behaviours, has still beaten me. There have been moments where I have been angry and frustrated, because I am so sick of swimming in all of this stuff, triggered by a multitude of different things, that seems never ending. There have been times when I have felt guilty, for leaning on the people around me for support.
Shortly after therapy ended, I went to visit Tanya (I wrote about her in my article entitled “Positive self regard”). I told her about the fear I had been feeling and how I had initially filled my days, with non urgent, seemingly meaningless tasks. Tanya told me that fear, was just F.alse E.vidence A.ppearing R.eal. That is it. That is completely it. My fear is just unhealthy worry, about things that have not yet happened and therefore, there is no real evidence for them. Tanya reassured me that something kept me here and I have not yet fulfilled my purpose. I am worth something. As I hugged her goodbye, she thanked god for me and prayed to him to continue looking after me. It was a beautiful moment and very moving. On the same day, a member of the forum reached out to me and asked for my advice, after telling me that they had connected to a lot of the articles I have written and shared. My level of value and self worth rose and I started to believe, that maybe things will be OK.
Despite initially feeling like I paused, or like I had just stopped the work I still had to do, I have actually learnt a lot about myself and the way that I think, since therapy ended. One of the things I have realised is that, thoughts about everyday current situations, can spiral for me very quickly. My youngest little man’s swimming lesson, spiralled in to, “my mum never felt like that about me”, in a relatively short space of time. If I can see this spiral, before the magnetism of it grows, I am able to look at events as single, isolated incidents and ‘let them go’, before the weight of the bricks I stack, sees the momentum carry me further downwards. I can separate the feelings of the inner child from the adult life, I am living.
I quite often walk a fine line, between wanting to help others and neglecting my own needs in the process. I have realised that I need to take a step back sometimes and think, before doing. I have been so determined to ‘heal’. I have at times rushed the process and pushed my level of comfortable and readiness, not stopping to consider whether I can handle the effects, or take on the enormity of this stuff. When my inner child is telling me to “be cautious”, I should heed her advice, because she is trying to protect me. She is not just the voice of a damaged little child, crying out because of her unmet emotional needs, demanding attention.
I have been giving a lot of thought to the idea that things have a way of working out to be OK in the end. I built up such a situation in my head after ‘self destruct night’ and I began to convince myself that this one night, was going to be all everyone remembered, regarding me and alcohol. I felt like no-one would relax around me again and that they would not remember all of the great nights out, we have had together. The date of 12 weeks sober, actually fell on my birthday and I did allow myself, to have a few glasses of wine, whilst surrounded by the people that were also there on ‘self destruct night’. I was able to demonstrate self control and moderation and I proved to the people I care about, that I am not in the same place, as 12 weeks previously. I no longer have a need to completely destroy myself. When I reached 10 weeks of sobriety, I celebrated with cake. Celebrating achievements is something that many people neglect and is definitely something I need to do more of.
Trying not to sabotage progress with self harming behaviours, or being so busy that there is no time to acknowledge the thoughts, feelings and memories, is something I need to continue to monitor. Self harm has always been about causing and creating pain that I understand and has always very much been about control. I can be very hard on myself and self critical, but I need to stop beating myself up. I can learn to take one day at a time, without writing off the rest of the week as a failure, following a slip. I have learnt that this healing journey can not be rushed or forced, despite trying to do both. I need to accept that the days where there are no real thoughts and connections, it is OK. I also need to accept that the days I feel like I need to block thoughts and feelings, that is also OK. Sticking my headphones in my ears, to block out noise, is OK. I need to trust myself because all I am doing, is what I think is best at any given time. Pausing and taking time out to recharge is OK. I found clearing and tidying, can be therapeutic and is a tool I can use to keep going. I am a completer/finisher (I was told this a long time ago in one of those pointless training courses most employers still insist on sending you too….but it is true) and if I start something then I normally finish it. I can use this to motivate myself to do something, when all I feel like doing is vegetating.
My daughter came to sit on my lap a few weeks ago and she was crying. She told me between heavy sobs, that she is never ever ‘moving out’ because she will miss me. When I questioned her and asked her if she was going to get married and have babies of her own, she adamantly said no, continuing to sob. I told her that I wanted to be a Nanna one day. I told her I wanted to be Nanna Tan, a bit like an orangutan, but a Nanna-Tan. The tears soon stopped. Many moments like this, have lifted my spirits since therapy ended. These moments have always been there, but I am noticing and really feeling the positive, much more.
I caught myself looking at my children one day last week and I allowed my head to fill, with all of the things they are involved and participating in, now and in the next few weeks. My youngest (aged 4) is taking part in the Children in Need talent show at school and has learnt 6 jokes (and their punch lines) and will stand in front of the whole school to deliver them. My daughter (aged 8) is dancing in the same talent show and has won the part of Narrator, in the school’s pantomime production this year (She also had 7 different dances with 7 different costumes, including a solo, in her dance school’s showcase event, a few weeks ago). My eldest (aged 11) is performing in the ‘Rotary Seasonal Concert’ next week and will be undertaking fair banding tests, for a potential secondary school place, at the weekend. Despite my history, my constant second guessing and questioning of my own parenting abilities and decisions, I have created 3, happy, confident children. They are not afraid to stand up and be counted and I am immensely proud of them (and me), for that.
I have found myself wanting to be more ‘in the moment’ and really with my children. I have re-discovered the joy that my children bring me and I have a new appreciation for their ability to make me smile, even on dark days. I woke last week, to the song ‘Iris’ by the Goo Goo Dolls and I spontaneously burst in to song. I sang, “I don’t want the world to see me”, and my youngest chirped, “I see you mummy”. I continued, “Because I don’t think that they’d understand, when everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am”, and my youngest, again, chirped ,“I know you mummy”. He not only melted my heart, but he made me smile, really smile, from the inside out.
I have learnt that despite frustration and attempting to forge ahead when motivation allows, things generally happen for a reason and at exactly the right time. The switch switches itself back on, when you are ready for it. While trying to avoid thinking and feeling during the “big clear out”, I found an envelope, covered with my hand writing, containing a list of songs. I do not remember writing the list and I did not recognise some of the artists and songs. I listened to the songs the following day and most of them reminded me of my mum. Some were very triggering for me and I cried, but I could not stop listening to them. Flashbacks and images flowed while listening to the songs, but they were not multi-sensory; just like a silent movie. It was a little depressing, but I found this list at a time when I wanted to start testing the water and my ability to cope feeling something. I wanted to feel something that went with the images and eventually that came too, but only when I was ready.
One day last week, I noticed a man looking through the doors of the studio, where I was participating in an aerobics class. I could then see him standing outside the studio, looking through the windows over looking the swimming pool, which contained children learning to swim. In my head I questioned his reason for being there. My first thought was, what is he doing there and would I still question it if my children were in the pool. And the answer was yes. I noticed that this thought came from a mother’s perspective and not from a survivor’s. It is every-bodies role to keep children safe. My first thought, was not that he had ill intentions, or that he was a potential paedophile. I learnt that I am not a negative person, despite my experiences of life so far.
I learnt a lot about myself in therapy and I have gained a hugely powerful self awareness. I think I have only really appreciated this, since therapy has ended. Now my fight it to remain open, to not shut down, but to harness and listen to that awareness. I think I have realised that there is no regression. There is no going backwards. The stuff that has come out, has come out. There is no longer a deep, dark, dirty, secret eating away at the core of my existence. I am in a much better place to judge what I need and I am now setting healthy boundaries, that will hopefully see me take much better care of me.
It has now been 5 weeks since my last session and my follow up session in next week. I am very much looking forward to seeing my therapist (for the final time) and sharing with her how I have been since our last meeting. My daughters recent 8th birthday has triggered some things. She is now the age I remember the sexual abuse beginning for me. I have a new kind of anger and a muffled confusion and I think I am experiencing some kind of projection? I think I am looking at my daughter and seeing me, my vulnerability and my own stolen innocence. My head has filled with memories of invaded privacy and overstepped boundaries. So I plan to take this to my ‘check in’ session, along with my journal entries.
I was hit by a massive wave of appreciation in my last session and it made me very emotional. I was so grateful to my therapist and I still am and I expect I will be hit by a bigger wave at my follow up session. Now, I am no longer wrapped up in the panic of therapy ending, but I am also at an added vantage point; I can really feel my progress from session 1 to now (not only see and acknowledge) . I won’t ever forget what my therapist has done for me