I saw A yesterday. And it was an intense session for me, but not on purpose. I feel like I’m finally accepting that I’m attached to her. And I believe I’m finally accepting that I am dealing with complex PTSD, that came on through family and what should have been (but weren’t always – hence insecure attachment) caregiving relationships as a child and adolescent. And I think I’m finally understanding it through the lens of trauma. And how all of it is connected.
I’m no means done my journey, I think I have realized that this will be a marathon, not a sprint. But I’m doing research and I’m embracing what is a really complicated and not necessarily well understood process. And as I learn, I’ll share.
In my session, I started to talk about attachment, reading a note I had written – and how I felt wrong, and bad. We talked about attachment and shame and how I get all these conflicting feelings about attachment. And she was like – you give voice to all of those feelings, except the one that wants to be attached. Let’s talk about that part of you. She was right – I talk about all the parts that absolutely do not want attachment. The critical voice, the scared part of me, the angry one, the hurt one, the grieving side, the suicidal one. But I never talk about the part that wants to show up. So I said how I want to be there so badly but when I leave I have trouble holding that – and then inevitably, about 20 hours after therapy, become full of shame and grief (right on time), and decide to sever the attachment because it hurts too much. Pretending I can sever the year we’ve spent together, creating something only we can make. As if that connection just disappears.
And she tried to hold us there, talking about our connection, and I tried to move on, and she brought it back and I shut completely down. It was involuntary and it happened SO fast – I didn’t even realize – and I’ve NEVER had anything like it happen before. I wanted to cry, and got really cold, like, freezing, and then I wanted to run away but I was stuck, and suddenly she was SO unsafe. And I was reminding myself I was an adult and could leave but I felt frozen, and I just couldn’t explain it. And A was like “something just changed really fast.” And she was like “you’ve shut down over there, haven’t you” and I nodded yes and she said “something I said or did touched a nerve, I think” and I shook my head no, and she said “are there words for what’s going on? I can see something big” and she kept gently coaxing I kept shaking my head but inside I was screaming and I felt such white hot cold terror from deep within and all of it happened within 30 seconds to a minute.
And eventually I looked away from her and closed my eyes and took deep breaths and was able to round myself back – it caught me SO by surprise. Usually I can see disassociation coming, and I choose not to fight it and ride it, but I’m still in control. But this was involuntary. I had no control. It was all amygdala – all fight or flight. All instinct. And nothing – and nobody – was safe. Once I found my voice again, she asked what happened and I said ‘I don’t know. But I’ll try to explain it’ – because I really needed that reassurance. I told her all of what I just wrote to you (but more scattered), like I was there and fine and listening to her and then suddenly SO scared and she wasn’t safe and I needed to leave but felt frozen. And how I got so cold and trembly. And how I was still cold. And she offered me the blanket and asked if it was OK for her to put it on me and that felt really good and like being tucked in – and then I was able to keep breathing. But I told her it was like 0-60, so involuntary. I still don’t know exactly what happened. She asked how it felt, and got me to keep talking to her – she was like “within your capability, cause we don’t want to go back there, let’s talk about this.” And I told her I didn’t know and was still terrified and she said “I know, we can slowly explore this together.” I couldn’t figure it out and so she was like ‘this is my thought and it’s just a guess‘ – she kept emphasizing that it was her interpretation and if she was wrong to tell her – “my guess is that something I did or said caused you to have a really severe trauma response. Trauma lives in the body, it’s somatic not cognitive, and that’s what that looked like to me.” And I told her I couldn’t really pick out anything she had said.
And then I told her, five or so minutes later, after I had calmed down a bit, cause fuck that was scary, that when I went away I could see and hear my mother yelling at me, in the room. And I couldn’t find the connection between A, and my mom yelling at me. I didn’t want her to think I associated her calm and loving presence with a horrible memory (even though clearly I did at some point for some reason draw that connection). And how in an instant everything went from being okay to everything being awful.
And she told me a bit about trauma. She called what happened fascinating at first and then was like “oh, no, I don’t mean to minimize your experience at all” and I was like “no, that was fascinating, although I would prefer it wasn’t me.” (we share a love for psychology). She talked about how complex trauma, that happens over time, especially when it happens in relation to an attachment figure or caregiver, often lives in the same place as any new attachment. Where one is fully 100% associated with the other. Attachment has never been anything but scary – so the more you become attached to someone in a caregiver-esque role (aka a therapist working with you on an attachment based model), the more likely you are to trigger a memory. She said it’s likely because she interrupted me and told me “no, we need to talk about this,” and that that bore too similar to something my mother (the only other ‘caregiver’ type person I’ve had in my life) said and it transformed into that experience instead.
“You’re becoming more attached to me, and as you start to see me as a caregiver type of person in your life, the more secure our attachment becomes, but the more I remind you of caregivers who failed you in some way. And as the more I remind you of people who failed you, the greater that possibility becomes that you’re going to feel these things, because in your head you’re expecting me to fail you too, and these things are going to come up. The trauma and healing attachment are combined, and sometimes, like today, it will surprise us.”
She said the goal is never to go into the memory and have the trauma come up like it did but that it will happen sometimes, if she misjudges or I misinterpret. And she applauded me for grounding myself back. Hell, I applaud myself. That was fucking insane.
It was crazy. It felt nuts. I felt small and terrified and simply wanted comfort. But I get it more now, the connection between trauma and attachment and the connection between attachment and healing. It’s intense. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And that sucks.
And if that 30 seconds of terror was anything like what I felt like sometimes as a child – we have a lot of work to do. I was so motherfucking lonely. Trauma doesn’t become traumatic unless nobody is attending to you… and while my parents attended to me a lot, there were enough times they didn’t for me to get this way. The good news is it can be managed and healed to an extent – the bad news is it’s going to take many more intense and painful and healing conversations to get there (according to the research I’ve immersed myself in since yesterday).