Existential Freefall – Part II

This is the second part of a two part series, for part I, see Existential Freefall – Part I

So in my last post, I explained the background and issues I was taking into my session last Friday (and then evidently, left people hanging off a cliff. 😀 ). So here’s the rest of the story.

BN let me in and we exchanged our usual “how are you’s.” We both sat down and he asked how I was doing and I told him it had been a bit of a stressful week. And that I had two major topics but wasn’t sure which I needed to talk about and which one I was using to avoid the one I needed to talk about. (My mind is sometimes a confusing place. 🙂 ) We talked briefly about my losing my friend’s parents. I told BN that for all that I didn’t have the world’s best parents, I have been incredibly blessed in the parents who have adopted me.

I told him I wasn’t sure where to start, so I just picked a topic. I talked about how I felt the eating was slipping and I had stopped exercising. I really do not want to get bariatric surgery but it’s starting to feel like it might be necessary as I seem unable to deal with this on my own. That I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment over telling him about it as I really did feel like a failure since I was supposed to be focusing on it. Then I caught myself. 🙂 I recognized that I have been making changes. I had even gone for a massage that week. BN checked in with me to see what came up and we were able to talk about some feelings of shame. But I was proud of myself because I was open with the massage therapist about feeling like being overweight made me feel like I didn’t deserve to have a massage. She was very accepting, kind and reassuring. I then told BN that being present helped because I could see that often my shame really did come from me. There were times during the massage where I had to flip over and it can be difficult because of my weight and being on a small table. So feelings of shame arose, but then I realized that the masseuse wasn’t reacting like I was doing anything wrong or that she was judging me. It was a chance to see that the shame is my reaction not other people’s. Then I talked about realizing I was doing the perfection thing again. That unless everything was under control (and nothing ever went wrong again!), that I needed to be eating right, exercising, meditating and being in my body all the time, then I was failing. And life just doesn’t work like that.

And I cannot for the life of me remember what BN said next, but it provided the perfect segue into my other topic. So I brought up that I was struggling with our relationship again. BN asked if that was the other major topic? I told him yes and that it felt major because I feel so much shame about needing to talk about it again, that I felt embarrassed about how I was feeling. He encouraged me to talk about it anyway. So I told him about the conversation with the other client (adding that it was basically a meeting of his fan club, got a nice grin for that one. 🙂 ) and about my friend being contacted by her therapist. In both cases, I told him that I understood where he placed his boundary and why it was necessary, but that didn’t change the feelings and how pervasive and strong they were. And that I got that we can care deeply for more than one person, as obviously in my own life, I knew that loving one person didn’t prevent me from loving another, or their being important to me, but again the feelings, no matter how irrational, were very strong. So BN asked the obvious, in retrospect, question “What are the feelings that rise up?”

As soon as he asked, the intensity ramped up tenfold and I immediately knew the answer to his question. But saying it to him turned out to be a whole other ball game. I, quite literally, sat there struggling for minutes to just say how I was feeling. BN was encouraging me but every time I went to speak, the shame was incredible and I JUST COULD NOT OPEN MY MOUTH. Not a usual problem for me. I think I started and stopped about eight times. I finally said to BN that I couldn’t feel it and say it at the same time and started to disconnect from the feeling and go into what I think of as “reporter” mode. Just the facts, detached from emotion. BN stopped me and said to try and say it with the feeling. So I took a deep breath and just blurted it out.

I told BN that I wanted to feel special to him and like I mattered. That it really hurt knowing that he had deep, close relationships with other clients; I don’t want to share him. (I cannot begin to explain the level of shame around feeling this, let alone saying this to BN, although I suspect some of you will understand. I feel ashamed typing it. But when I read it and take myself out of the equation, it doesn’t sound all that shameful to feel that way. There was also a lot of fear of punishment.) I wanted to matter to him and it felt like if I really mattered, he would call to check in on me. That he doesn’t call, because really I’m just not that important. I feel like I am doing such an inadequate job of explaining what this felt like. I felt so incredibly vulnerable and exposed saying this to BN.

He responded very lovingly, with acceptance and compassion while normalizing the feelings. He told me that I am special and I do matter, all the time, but he understood how these feelings got evoked. That he thought this was (once again, it’s been a real theme lately as we have been going back to a lot of memories surrounding the abuse) related to the dynamic of approaching my father and then having it turn to abuse. That in the beginning of the abuse, it more than likely felt like I WAS special and I was going to get what I needed, only to have it turn to over stimulation and overwhelming feelings. Then when it was over, to be thrown away. We had dealt with my memories of just being tossed aside, or even scorned or humiliated, when my father was done. I was just totally cut off.

BTW, I should probably mention that at this point, my face was covered by my hands. I have been consciously working very hard in my last few sessions to try and look at BN more. Didn’t realize how hard it was for me to do until I started trying to do it. BN has never made an issue of the fact that I spend a lot of our sessions balled up with my face covered. But a month or so back, I had sent him another article on touch, but we ended up not being able to discuss the actual article. We hit a bit of rupture over the email in which I sent it to him. (He was on vacation, thought it was just a link based on the subject line, and didn’t open or read the email. Which actually expressed my anxiety about sending him the article and asking for a response reassuring me it was ok to send it. My reaction was not pretty when I found out. 😀 ). At the very end of the session, BN mentioned that we still needed to discuss the topic but that he found it a little ironic that we were discussing me touching him when I couldn’t even look at him. It was a very well-timed and well-aimed comment, which hit me right between the eyes (pardon the pun!).

BN kept discussing what it must have been like, while I sat and cried and listened to him. He talked about how important it was to have someone there, that you be reflected by them. That I was looking to see that I mattered to my father. But because my father was so far gone in his own needs and narcissism, that I was looking for my reflection and there was nothing there in my father’s eyes…. BAM! When BN said that, I finally remembered, all in a rush of comprehension. The abyss opened at my feet and the breathtaking terror came pounding back. I remembered, I felt, what it was like to disappear, to be annihilated. There was no reflection in my father, I had ceased to exist for him as my use was done. At that age, I had no sense of self to retain without being able to see myself mirrored. As I described it to BN, I went into existential freefall. Falling through an unbroken darkness with nothing in it, no bottom, nothing to hang on to, and no one to rescue me.

But this time, instead of dissociating, I had an anchor and so I stayed. My breathing got rapid, but I didn’t hyperventilate. And I had to fight really hard to stay, but stay I did through the flashbacks and feelings. I was sobbing and curled up around enormous pain and fear. BN was speaking very gently to me, and I remember gasping out “please (a very stuttered please in the voice of a three or four year old) keep talking.” So BN kept speaking gently, telling me it was over, and I was safe, and he was there.

It sounds so small, doesn’t it? Simply not being reflected or seen? I had always thought that my hyperventilating protected some horrible revelation, some terrible act of abuse by my father, especially as my grasp on details of the abuse is particularly vague. But instead it was the overwhelming, unspeakable terror of a child when their caregiver, for whom they depend on for their life, disappears taking any sense of self with them. It felt like in that moment, I was so utterly abandoned that I had ceased to exist.

I was able, barely, to stay in the room until the feelings moved through me. Which has been a point BN has been making to me over and over. That never before had I been able to stay long enough to have the feeling move through me, so that I could know I could survive feeling it. Always before, I had just left. I fled the feeling because it was so intimately connected to a sense of destruction. It truly was a moment of catharsis, because I was able to recognize that as a adult, I was capable of facing those feelings. I have a strong enough sense of self now internalized and someone there who could provide a reflection of that self. But it also allowed me to have compassion for the child I had been, because there was no way in the world a child could have faced that level of terror alone. Of course, crucially, the adult didn’t have to face it alone. BN was there. I felt wrung out and sad, but there was also relief. Relief to have reclaimed this part of myself.

I am reading Bessel van der Kolk’s book on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score (amazing book by the way, I highly recommend it) and had run across a quote he used at the beginning of a chapter. It so perfectly described the work that BN and I have been doing that I had sent it to him.

The “night sea journey” is the journey into the parts of ourselves that are split off, disavowed, unknown, unwanted, cast out, and exiled to the various subterranean worlds of consciousness. . . . The goal of this journey is to reunite us with ourselves. Such a homecoming can be surprisingly painful, even brutal. In order to undertake it, we must first agree to exile nothing. —Stephen Cope

When I expressed that part of what I was feeling was relief, BN reminded me of the quote, that he thought it described exactly what we were doing. That he was sorry for the pain I had experienced, and what my father had done to me and even the pain the boundaries caused, but that it was the only way he knew to access these cut off parts of myself, to exile nothing, so I could become a whole person. I no longer need to fear that feeling, as I have experienced surviving it.

We ran over by fifteen minutes, which was a total shock to me when I realized it. I was still very shakey and told BN it was scary to leave as it felt like either of us could disappear. The memory was so strong that it felt like BN would burst like a soap bubble when I walked out the door. He was very understanding and urged me to contact him if I needed to, that the fear made total sense considering what I just remembered. He wrote out my appointment card and gave it to me, then he stopped and said “are you ok?” I gave a feeble smile and said I would be. And he just stopped and said “take a minute” and we just stood there together. It meant the world to me.

Walking out of his office was difficult but amazing. That kind of moment of catharsis, of feeling, leaves me almost in an altered state. I am very present and everything takes on this incredible quality of “realness.” I also find that I am very sensitive to the beauty around me. It’s as if for a short time, I become fully alive. I had made a point of trying to look at BN again as soon as I could manage it and I think it made a huge difference. I was looking at him when he talked about my being in pain and needing to heal, and his compassion for me was plain to see. I have carried that with me and so far haven’t called him. Although I’m not ruling it out. 😀 I am still processing the session, both consciously and unconsciously. In fact, this is the first I have been able to speak about it to anyone. I am not sure of all the ramifications but finally getting to this feels like a significant step in my healing.

One last note, as much as I can hate and be hurt by BN’s boundaries, as much as I can want to move beyond them, this work is what shows me how necessary they are. The pain evoked by them is the trail I follow to the forgotten parts of myself. How much easier for both of us if BN just folded, gave in and moved his boundaries to comfort me. But it would only last for a time and I would still be a house divided. And so he holds firm and steady and walks beside me so that I do not go into hell alone. There are no words to express my gratitude.

  1. April 22, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    We all need someone willing and strong enough to walk into hell with us, but also remain as an anchor to the world and help us come back. It sounds like this session was amazing. Being able to stay with the feelings, all the way through and see that you can survive it is amazing. I find you very brave and inspiring.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 22, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Perfect description! I always think of BN as the piling of a dock. Driven deep, and holding fast, supporting a place of safety. The session really was amazing, in many ways I am still taking it in. I know that I am working hard (thank you for saying you find me brave and inspiring) but I am in awe of BN’s commitment to my healing and the skill with which he helps me. ~ AG

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April 22, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    This brings up so many emotions for me. Just last night, I told my therapist that I wanted to feel special to him. I wasn’t able to break through the pain, but I’m on the journey. It hurts so, so bad, so I can appreciate what you’ve just gone through. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 22, 2015 at 9:51 pm

      (((April))) Thanks for being so generous as to comment when you are in the midst of dealing with this pain. Definitely not the first time I have talked to BN about wanting to feel special. In fact, I brought up the session we had about the book of poetry I found (The Paradox of Shame) because I used what I said then about feeling like I found a treasure only to realize it was just a piece of broken glass. It has truly helped to get at the heart of this pain. Because I truly do know that the pain pushes us way beyond what we feel like we can bear. But in my case, while I do want to be special to BN, that deep pain and intensity is really due to how much I needed that as a child and being deprived of it. But it took a long time to make that journey, and talking about so many more times than I ever wanted to. Hang in there, I know it probably doesn’t feel like it right now, but I think you’re doing really good work. xx AG

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Laughing Dragon
    April 22, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    I did a few sessions with a therapist. I wish I had the money to continue. I find it invigorating and very humbling to see the motivations behind the vulnerability. Wish I still had that.


    • April 22, 2015 at 9:54 pm

      Laughing Dragon,
      (Still love your username, makes me smile every time I read it. 🙂 ) I’m really sorry, as a few sessions is like one drop of water on a forest fire. I am sorry that it’s beyond your reach. I am glad that you are finding value in what you read here, it is kind of you to say so. ~ AG


  4. DpBluSee
    April 22, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Hi AG. First off… ((((AG)))).

    Secondly, I am in the process of going through my own version of this. This is an experience that can change a person forever. I know that I have been forever altered by it. You did such a good job of describing what is truly an indescribable sensation. I want to tell you that I think that you are SOO brave and even braver to post about it. Just to have the strength to show up and do the work deserves kudos… and many hugs!

    I am thinking of you and looking forward to hearing how things evolve for you – but NO pressure!!

    Best to you,


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      (((DBS))) Really good to hear from you! Sorry to hear you are also doing this, but so appreciate knowing you understand it. I really struggled to try and convey the experience and felt very frustrated, so it’s good to know that I did manage to communicate enough for other people to understand and relate to. I definitely agree that it changes you and on a fundamental level. Thank you for sharing that. And I promise there’s more to come!

      xx AG


  5. April 22, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    It doesn’t sound like a small thing to me at all. Memories of being young and left all alone when the world is swirling in the overwhelm are terrifying. I know that for me it’s like there was nothing solid to grasp on to. Wanting for him to go away and yet needing to not be alone. Just wanting to be loved. Sorry, hard to come up with a coherent thought…


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      (((Cat))) That was actually incredibly coherent, you captured the feeling so poignantly “wanting for him to go away and yet needing to not be alone.” I feel so comforted that you understand, but so sad that you do. Part of what was so powerful about this was realizing that BN truly understood how this felt and what it was like. I never expected to have it understood. Such a difficult journey but gratitude that there is way through. xx AG

      Liked by 1 person

  6. April 23, 2015 at 12:41 am

    “It sounds so small, doesn’t it? Simply not being reflected or seen?”

    Although I thankfully never experienced the kind of abuse you did, I think it relates to what I think was a key event in my very young life. I am 3 years and one month older than my sister, and my mom had placenta previa when she was pregnant with her. She hemorrhaged twice at the end of the pregnancy, and the last time she was taken by ambulance out of our house to the hospital. I think I saw her about a week later when she and my sister came home.

    At one point last year I had sent my therapist two emails. She had been pretty good about answering emails, though not perfect. For some reason she didn’t reply to these emails, and I’ve always found it annoying, but not a big deal. For some reason though this time it bothered me a lot. I tried to reason with myself that it was the weekend, she had other things to do, etc. and it wasn’t working. This thought popped into my head, “maybe she disappeared.” I was like, “what? why was I thinking that?” I once again tried to reason with myself that she had not disappeared and that I’d see her in a few days.

    I remember when I saw her when she opened the door to the waiting room to call me back, and I felt a huge sense of relief that she was still there and hadn’t disappeared. I was still confused as to why I was feeling these things. I talked to her a little bit about me thinking she’d disappeared but we didn’t figure out why.

    Either that night or the next morning in bed the memory of my mom being wheeled out of my house in front of me popped into my head. I had never blocked the memory, but I hadn’t thought about it in years. And then I made the connection: my barely three year old self thought that my mother had disappeared. Everyone was focused on my mom and my sister and no one stopped to tell me what was going on, and even at that age I didn’t show much emotion so no one bothered to tell me everything was going to be ok. The story of my sister being born and the placenta previa and c section has been recounted many times over the years and it occurred to me that I was the only member of the family that was never included in the story. My dad talked about his emotions and how he prayed for my mom and sister, and my mom talked about her experience, but I was not even considered in the whole thing. Neighbors and grandparents watched me, and I don’t think anyone showed me any empathy or compassion the whole time. I think I was scared that my mom had disappeared and no one even acknowledged my feelings at all, or that my existence even mattered over that time.

    Once my mom came home she had a newborn to care for and everything had changed for me and I didn’t understand why. I have a feeling no one had the patience to explain it to me.

    I think the table was set for my attachment issues before that, but I think this really sealed the deal. I learned that how I felt didn’t matter and that no one understood me or cared enough to find out how I was doing. I still haven’t connected with all of the emotion of that event, other than being scared and feeling like I didn’t matter. I guess it’s pretty scary feeling alone at age 3.

    I hope that made sense. Thank you for sharing your recent experience. I think you’re helping a lot of people, and hopefully yourself as well.


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      I think it was very insightful to connect those feelings around your therapist with what happened with your mother, that’s what I am talking about when I say I follow the trail of my feelings back to their source. And that sounds like an overwhelming experience for a child of three, especially one that no one is helping. Actually one of the really powerful things to me about this was as I mentioned in the post, I always expected this was going to turn out to be horrific memory of abuse, but instead it was about a lack of attunement and attention when I most needed it (well, ok, the need was created by the abuse, but I think that just upped the “normal” level of need a child has). This is the reason that people who “only” suffered neglect can struggle with the same symptoms of a child who suffered sins of commission, not just of omission. It was that which we did not have which did the most damage. What your described resonated very strongly with my experience even though the circumstances were so different. xx AG

      Liked by 1 person

  7. April 23, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Thank you for the heartfelt and honest recount of your experience in therapy – not being seen or reflected is anything but small for any person, but especially very young people! The feelings you bravely stuck with could have literally killed a child to feel. I am moved by your courage, and offer support for your continued efforts in healing. Any of us who have entered into a therapeutic relationship with such strong attachment appreciate the depth and sheer intensity of what you are doing.
    Well done. :).


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:27 pm

      Thank you for acknowledging the severity of the experience. Actually I have appreciated everyone understanding why it was so difficult and wounding to experience. Funny you say it could literally kill, BN has said a number of times in recent sessions as I have integrated feelings and memories around the abuse, that I was in a situation and under conditions in which it is impossible to sustain life. As difficult as being split and integrating can be, I am grateful and in awe that we are made such that this could be stored away until I had the strength, resources and connection to face it. Thank you for your understanding. ~ AG


  8. April 23, 2015 at 1:30 am

    What an extraordinary breakthrough this is AG. To actually be able to stay and survive the feelings, just this once, is one of those experiences that will never be forgotten and will change your life. It is like on a game show when you win a certain amount of money and it gets banked and is safe and no matter what, you cannot lose it. This recognition that you exist as a whole person has been banked and will never be lost. It will take some practice to get the hang of but this really is a celebration. Thank you so much for sharing your session, i resonated with so much of what you said, i cried and smiled but i can assure there was not a single moment where shame or shamefulness came into it. A whole new world will open up from this, this is a good thing, enjoy it as much as you can. Lots of love to you.


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      ((((Tania))) It’s wonderful to hear from you! Thank you so much for your always timely encouragement. You always sound like BN! He often tells me that when I have experienced something it is now part of me, and I can know that I am capable of it and it can happen again. i know I can be whole now, and that’s not something I knew before, and it is worthy of celebration. Thank you for always reminding me of the joy. I am sending lots of love back! 🙂 BTW, I am terrible about leaving comments but have really been enjoying your posts. You have a wonderful perspective (you always have!) I hope you are keeping well. xx AG


  9. April 23, 2015 at 4:43 am

    Very tough work you are accomplishing…


  10. Emma
    April 23, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Dear AG

    Thank for your bravery and honesty. I can relate so much to not being able to look at my therapist, it’s been 13 years and I just can’t bring myself to even glance at her, it’s just too overwhelming and terrifying. what you say makes complete sense about the overwhelming fear about what won’t be reflected. I feel I have hit hard times myself at the moment with accepting that I cannot be special to her and that she cannot love me. I have been under the spell (because it feels intoxicating) of feeling hope that she could to now losing that hope of getting the things I needed which I didn’t have. The most painful thing is I thought I had let go of the hope.

    Yesterday I Had a revelation that I was furious with my therapist, had disinvested in the relationship and unconsciously put that hope elsewhere in another relationship that I know consciously won’t give me those things but unconsciously that hope does not want to die. I told her this and i now feel fear I will have destroyed the relationship a bit more. I just can’t bear facing those feelings of aloneness or whatever it is I am still wanting to avoid. AG your stories make me feel less alone so thank you



    • April 23, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Working through that hope that does not want to die, is a difficult, and in my experience, a cyclical process. You work through it and then it pops up again, but you go deeper each time. The first time I actually faced the grief of knowing there were some things I was never going to have one of the most difficult things I have eve done. But giving up the search for something you can never have, although painful, opens you up to looking for what you can have, which is no small thing and leads to a more full life. Be patient and compassionate with yourself it takes time. And yes, along the way, I have also been furious with BN and expressed it to him, that he could not provide it. Once when I expressed my anger in an email, he told me that he knew he represented that which I did not have. So I don’t think you destroyed the relationship, I think your therapist will understand that this really isn’t about her but about your early experiences.

      And I have to thank you for your comment and what you said about not looking at your therapist. It feels like a total “D’oh” now that I’ve realized it, but when I read your comment I realized that I haven’t only been avoiding BN’s gaze because I was afraid of what I might see, I have been avoiding it because of the fear that I would see nothing. I am planning on talking to him about that at our session tomorrow. xx AG


  11. April 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Wow. I also hate my T’s boundaries, feel she doesn’t care, go into reporter mode, etc. Just last session she said “now that you’ve told me the facts, tell me your feelings”. I never thought about the boundaries being important so that they evoke the pain we need to go through. I guess that explains why the boundaries don’t bother all clients. They didn’t before my mom died. I could have cared less about my T and then her death started the transference.


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      I think the boundaries and our reactions to them, are how we sort through the things that are now impossible to get and must be mourned and the needs that can still be met. Over the years, as my experience and trust with BN have grown, I have come to understand that he very willingly provides anything that is within his power to provide. So if he’s telling me he can’t do something, it’s a pretty good indicator that there is a loss to be mourned. If you haven’t read it, my post How do I fill the void? does a pretty good job of talking about this (as do a number of my posts, it’s kind of theme of mine 🙂 ). xx AG


  12. fingerprints
    April 23, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Hi AG,

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite awhile. I’ve never commented before. Sometimes (okay, MOST of the time) words don’t seem to adequately express the feelings I experience…so I end up not saying anything. However, I do want to say that during difficult times, your words have been a truly positive force in my life. I hope to find the courage and patience (and words) to be able to express myself as powerfully as you have in this blog. Thank you.

    This portion of your post prompted me to comment:

    “But instead it was the overwhelming, unspeakable terror of a child when their caregiver, for whom they depend on for their life, disappears taking any sense of self with them. It felt like in that moment, I was so utterly abandoned that I had ceased to exist.”

    For some reason, these sentences struck a deep chord with me. They also immediately reminded me of something that I read a few nights ago in Charlotte Bronte’s novel “Villette”. The first two chapters introduce a character named Polly. She is a little girl who is attempting to deal with abandonment. In light of your comments in this post, it struck me as a very subtle, yet powerful, illustration of how deeply abandonment affects a child.

    Disclaimer: I’ve just started reading “Villette”, so I don’t know how it ends or how Polly’s character plays into the scheme of things.

    Thank you again AG.


    • April 23, 2015 at 10:46 pm

      Thanks so much for coming forward to make a comment, it’s good to “meet” you. Thank you for your kind words, I am so very glad that you have been able to find comfort here. Thanks also for sharing about Villette, I’ve never read it, but will check it out, I would like to read those chapters. I hope to hear more from you in the future, just for the record, I think you express yourself very well. 🙂 ~ AG


  13. April 23, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Hi AG thank you so much for sharing your experience.. What a gift for me to identify with another person, I am not alone..

    I have found myself like you unable to talk, curled up and hands covering my face.. Just last week I went to see my T and I was thinking sure I have nothing to say this week.. Some chit chat and the next thing I felt awful exposed.. I shared this with him and he asked to explain.. I was trying to hide my body. I had a cardigan on and I was trying to pull it around me to cover me to be honest to cover my breasts.. I am so hung up on my body and that I am a sexual being, don’t like it at all… Anyway as I was hiding a memory came back of being teased/called names by my family about my breasts.. As I was sharing this I was sitting with my head covered.. My T said to try and not go into the shame and try and make eye contact.. It was so difficult but I did… Maybe this is the beginning of me unravelling my thoughts and perceptions of my body image… After sharing this with my T the feelings of love I have towards him is immense. He is so gentle and present to me… I am so grateful to be doing this work finally..

    Thank you AG for being you.. Keep daring and sharing greatly…



    • April 23, 2015 at 10:52 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. I commend your courage in staying with those feelings long enough to go back to the source, especially as it pertained to your body image. I find talking about my body to be just horribly embarrassing and difficult. I am sorry you experienced the kind of teasing that made you feel like your body was something to be ashamed of. I have some idea how hard it was to look at your T, it was very brave of you to manage it and it sounds like your have a very caring therapist. And what you say about the immense love towards him and the gratitude for finally being able to do the work really resonates with me. It sounds like you are doing really good work! xx AG.


  14. drgeraldstein
    April 23, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    Not small. Sounds amazing. Your therapist (and you) should be an example for a hypothetical (but not fictitious) book, “Great Moments in Therapy.” Condolences on the loss of your adoptive parents and three cheers on your work and the resulting progress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 23, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      Dr. Stein,
      Thank you so much! I am humbled by your opinion of me but agree totally about my therapist. 🙂 I will pass along the compliment. You really are a great encouragement to me. ~ AG


  15. April 24, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    I used to like to look at my therapist. She is so warm and encouraging, she makes me feel comfortable talking about sensitive things. And then, about two months ago, I had a “black out” (I am not too sure how to call it, I’ve never had it before nor after again) in a session: in the middle of a sentence I just blacked out. It felt like someone would switch the lights off in my head. I don’t think I’ve lost more than a few seconds, but I remember coming back, hearing my therapists voice closer and closer. And I looked at her, not knowing what was going on, and her facial expression and body language was so empathetic, caring and gentle, that whatever was about to come to the surface in me, started rushing through from the very bottom of my mind? soul? and me, the control freak felt that there was nothing I could do to stop it. So I just sat there, waiting for the horror to start, but it just didn’t happen.
    So since then I am pretty scared to look at her while describing painful memories (and I also don’t want to be reflected, I also like to keep my feelings at a certain distance).
    It’s such a relief to see I am not the only one with this problem. I am always doubting and questioning myself, sometimes it is really hard to believe that one day I will be able to connect with my therapist on a deeper level. It’s so good to read about your achievement. I really hope I will be this brave soon and I will be able to walk through all the painful (and all the repressed ones) memories.
    Thanks for being here for us 🙂


    • April 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      I think building the trust can take a long time. I also think it’s important to stay in the “therapeutic window” as John Briere defines it. Activated enough to have your feelings without getting so upset that you end up dissociating. I think as we grow and heal, we come back around and go deeper, because as we heal, we increase our tolerance and our window opens wider, so that we can feel more. That fact that you are able to in a moment like that experience your T’s empathy, care and gentleness is the sign of a very strong alliance. Be patient and have compassion on yourself, This can be slow, painful work and the slower you go, the faster you get there. ~ AG

      PS I still want to write a post on recovering repressed memories, but in terms of recovering a memory, this post was a good description. I just want to go back and talk about the initial breakthrough as I had no conscious memories of the sexual abuse until I was in my 30s.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Pop
    April 25, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Well, I braved it. Up to the annihilation bit. Which, is just freaking me out because I wrote very similar words myself this morning…reflections, abyss, terror. Will brave more later. Thank you for writing this x


    • April 26, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      That’s an awful lot of courage! And try to take comfort from the words being so similar, it puts your experience in the human range and allows you to see that you can tolerate the feelings and heal from it. But I know how scary this is, so take all the time you need. ~ AG


      • Pop
        April 27, 2015 at 3:04 am

        Thanks AG. Still not read the rest!!! See T today after a 2 week break and have so much to talk about and will be using your words at some point I’m sure! For me, what’s become clear is what healing really means – it means facing difficult feelings and having a different reflection gradually replace the old one. Or indeed having a reflection at all.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. April 26, 2015 at 1:11 am

    ((())) it sounds like such a beautiful but painful session. it sounds like a ‘right time, right place, right now’ sort of thing happened for you. you’ve walked it so bravely – i can’t imagine feeling annihilation… i don’t think I’ve ever let that happen in my work… and staying present. I’m glad you can and do leverage your relationship w/ BN to keep one foot in the now and near the body. Much love to you…


    • April 26, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      ((((Cycles))) Lovely to hear from you! Beautiful but painful just about covers it. Or maybe, painful but beautiful. I never want to feel annihilation again! The best part of this is moving it from a traumatic memory to a biographical memory. Now it’s something that happened in my past, so it’s easier to tolerate thinking about it. BN and I spent my last session discussing all that came out of it, and I am incredibly grateful for his help. We both agreed that we both worked very hard to get here. 🙂 Much love back, AG


  18. Rainydaiz
    April 26, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Gosh you are so eloquent. I love reading your blogs because they resonate so much. I have been experiencing some similar things in therapy-the shame that prevents me from speaking, pain at not getting what I want from my t. But more recently and surprisingly I’ve had a flashback and a regression into something so terrifying I can’t stay there. So I was fascinated to read these posts. The first flashback was intense terror and I found myself screaming oh god no, please and crying. It was black and I had no visual memory and it left me in shock. More recently I regressed into my child self- again it was dark but I was so scared I was able to ask my t to make it stop; so she grounded me. I was unable to stay with it. I have no memory of anything traumatic ever happening to me though something must have traumatised me. I’ve been really pushing at the boundaries recently as the pain is so intense. I was really interested at your being grateful for the boundaries BN has put in place so the work could take place. The regression I had was in response to me saying to my t -you’re not my mum, and her shaking her head to indicate I was right- she wasn’t my mum. Do you think I need to go through the awful pain in order to release/remember the trauma? Is that kind of what you are saying about it?
    Thanks again, so much. Your blog helps. I’m not alone.


    • April 26, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      Hi Rainydaiz,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. Your flashback experiences sound very intense and scary, especially since you have no context to place them in. I often find the boundaries useful, because therapy provides a place where our longings and needs are free to surface, and when our therapist cannot meet the need, the pain evoked by that often resonates with pain in our past, allowing us to become conscious of it. I also think that sometimes what we do get from our T’s, the care and compassion and attunement, make us conscious of just what it is we missed.

      As far as what you need to go through, I can’t give you a definitive answer. Every person has a unique healing path although we share enough similarities to provide support along the way. I recovered most of my abuse memories in my 30s while working with my first therapist, and as I have healed and grown have been able to dig further in and feel more. My recent work with BN has been very concerned with core issues. Split off parts of myself from a very young age which are also very far reaching in their consequences. BN and I have been identifying some very deep unconscious patterns and tying them to those early experiences. I will be honest with you and tell you that healing has involved facing a lot of pain, but it has also been about receiving and experiencing things I never thought I could have. Much like life, there has been a lot of joy and beauty along with the pain and struggle. I was very shut down emotionally, and when we cut off pain and hurt, we also cut off joy and comfort. So try not to spend a lot of time dreading what’s coming. I could not have faced this pain 10 years ago, it has taken me a lot of time and work to get to this level. Just keep talking about the feelings that come up and seeking to understand what they say about you. It sounds like you are doing good work, just continue in it. And I do not believe that you need to remember everything or to feel everything to heal, just what you need to. And you can trust it to come to light as you sense that you can handle it knowing it. My guess would be that whatever is pressing on you in the flashbacks is probably emerging now because you have enough of a bond with your therapist to feel safe and strong enough to allow yourself to remember. I wish you the best in your healing and hope to hear from you again. ~ AG


      • Rainydaiz
        April 27, 2015 at 11:27 am

        Thank you AG for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply to my comments. It was really kind of you. Like you describe; before therapy- actually- even after therapy had started but before I’d made an attachment, I was shut down emotionally too, so that part resonated with me. Everyone thinks I’m a very together, hard, strident, honest (blunt!) person. No-one saw the real, vulnerable part (not even me). And when I did see it, I hated it and tried to hide it. Bless my lovely t for not feeling the same about that part of me as I do.
        It’s such a struggle to stay with the pain but I have managed it this far, and like you say, I can see I need to continue with it. There have been so many times I have wanted to cut and run. I saw somewhere on the internet someone had described therapy as being like ‘dying of hunger and living right outside a restaurant’. I guess it will be worth it in the end though. Your post and reply have both meant such a lot to me, they’ve really helped me when I’m in a a bad place. I’m really so very grateful. Thank you.


        • April 27, 2015 at 10:02 pm

          You’re very welcome, I am glad you found it helpful. Love the description of therapy. I have told BN a number of times that I feel I am caught up in a very Dickensian scene, standing in rags out in the cold, my bare feet in the snow, staring in through a window to a scene of warmth and plenty, watching a loving family feasting. And once, when I was really angry with him for going on vacation, I told him I was tired of scrambling around on the floor trying to find crumbs which has fallen from the table of his life to feed myself with (My feelings are not always rational!). So yeah, that description resonated with me. 😀


          • Rainydaiz
            April 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

            Thank you AG. That probably explains why I was such a fan of The Little Match Girl as a child. 😊

            Liked by 1 person

  19. Pop
    April 27, 2015 at 5:45 am

    Potential trigger warning-

    I braved a bit more – skim read it, you know how you do when you want to protect yourself?! Just had my session – I’ve just walked away with a clarity I’ve never felt before. And a level of acceptance of that part of myself to need T’s reflection of me, the sense of self she helps me see, and that the black hole was then, not now.

    Then, not now.

    Also, once you’ve really understood the concept of annihilation anxiety, you can see how it appears as a theme throughout literature, history, films, music, poetry (Greek God Pan for instance) it is something we all strive to avoid – we strive to be seen. I believe we all have some memory of it. Physical death is real and tangible and not something I’m particularly afraid of – ceasing to exist and still being around to witness it? There is nothing that can compare to that.

    Thank you again AG, for writing about your experience. I really feel like I’m not walking through this alone.


    • April 27, 2015 at 10:09 pm

      I totally get skimming. It’s the way I read when I am deeply triggered, These are not easy or comfortable topics. Sounds like a really important session. I think one of the strongest signs of healing is moving something from the present to the past. That’s what happens to our sense of a traumatic memory once it’s been processed, it loses that sense of immediacy.

      And your right, annihilation is at its core, an existential struggle for any human being. I think what was so damaging is being forced to face it with no resources or anchor. The only reason I could face it now was because I am an adult and BN provided a life line to hang onto. I am very glad to hear that you feel less alone. It’s amazing how much hope and strength grows out of it. I told BN about these posts and the response at our last session and he thought it was very important and very helpful that I was continuing to talk about the experience and having understanding reflected. So just for the record, I am getting a lot out of this also . 🙂 xx AG


      • Pop
        April 28, 2015 at 4:45 am

        ‘annihilation is at its core, an existential struggle for any human being. I think what was so damaging is being forced to face it with no resources or anchor.’

        This. I actually believe we all experience it as very small children – ‘mother’ only has to be good enough – there will inevitably be failings in attunement and mirroring. What is so damaging like you say, is being left to face that alone. That hurt, that pain, the annihilation pain has to be shared and seen and understood. Mirrored. Bit of a paradox really. But I think it’s true to say that the painful feelings come up because (and another paradox here) is because you’ve realised that T cannot be the perfect parent BUT can be with you in your pain, ie there is a chance for those feelings to be attended to, unlike in the past. I think I’ve said this before but the way I understand it is an attachment is not to avoid pain, it is a facility to process it and once we realise that that is what therapy is about we can start to internalise comfort. If we push our pain away we can’t ever get what we need. Trauma is not pain, it’s having no attachment or connection to process it.

        So in that respect you could consider annihilation anxiety as a normal part of development, but without an anchor ir bedrock it becomes a trauma.

        Either way, it’s what I’m dealing with and it sucks.


        • Pop
          April 28, 2015 at 7:03 am

          Actually after my session I’d like to edit my above post – when T sees my pain, I am not annihilated. So for me, it is literally about early separation and transforming from being seen physically to being seen emotionally. My mum could not stay with the pain and hurt of separation and my T can. That simple. In theory. It’s so hard to believe my pain can be seen. It’s been underground for so long.


          • Pop
            April 28, 2015 at 7:48 am

            And you know what, it’s also about feeling loved. I’m hesitant to say that as I’ve never wanted to use that word in the therapy context but I think it’s true. At the heart of my deepest pain is the feeling of not being loved. Of being rejected. Is it wrong to want to feel loved by your T? After all it’s a basic child need?


  20. liz
    April 27, 2015 at 11:58 am

    On a lighter note, you have all my admiration for having been so nice to the other client you mentioned in your last post (you even complimented her! you have superpowers!). After almost four years of therapy, all I can do when I bump into another client on my way out (especially another woman) is just glare contemptuously. I would hiss like a cat if I didn’t care about common social conventions 😀

    (seriously though, about this post: thanks for sharing, it was really moving. You have such a graceful way of going through darkness, I can’t stop telling you)


    • April 27, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      ((Liz)) You’re awesome and say the nicest things. I have an awful confession to make. 🙂 I heard her laugh but when the door opened, and I saw her she was older than me, not particularly svelte and not particularly well dressed. If she had been younger and more attractive I probably would have hissed like a cat! I know there have been times when the door has opened and I’ve just wanted to push the other client down the steps!! I HATE sharing that man, but evidently I have no choice. 🙂 Umm so don’t be too impressed! Large feet, lots of clay. xx AG


  21. Moto
    April 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    ((AG)) I have been wanting to comment since I first read this. A lot of things came up for me when I read it and I have been out of town! This whole revelation is not a small thing at all! This is huge and I am so happy for you that you were finally able to go there. That really says a lot about the relationship you have with BN! Bravo for staying with the feelings and also saying them without dissociating or going into reporter mode!

    Ok every time I try to type out and explain what this post did for me my mind goes blank! I will say it helped tremendously! The fear of not being reflected or seen is huge! For me personally I know that drives a lot of my control. And a lot of me thinking (or at least pretending) I don’t need anyone or anything.

    You really have a way to normalize things for me and to know I am not alone. I feel this comment is so inadequate because I really want to explain how much it helped and how much it brought up for me but I can’t.


    • April 27, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      (((Moto))) Thank you so much! This may sound strange but the way you are struggling to articulate how you feel is communicating what you mean in a very vivid way to me. It’s how I felt trying to describe the experience to BN in session and how I felt writing these posts. It was an incredible relief that people understood what I was trying to say anyway. This is very deep stuff, and words always feel short. THIS is exactly why human beings turn to art, because some things just can’t be said. Thank you for sharing that this touched you so deeply, it means a lot to me to know that. I appreciate you struggling to try and express it well enough to be understood. xx AG


  22. Heather
    May 4, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been a long time reader of your blog, probably got to it through a comment that you made on the After Psychotherapy blog maybe 4 or 5 years ago and how much I appreciate your writing. I am also a long term therapy client and so I have enjoyed the depth with which you have engaged with the work that you done.

    And wow!! What an accomplishment to have stayed with the feelings and BN to be able to come to this realization. What amazing courage and determination you’ve had to get to the bottom of this.

    In therapy work there are none of the big markers of accomplishment that one can get for other kinds of work in the world like promotions, degrees, raises, the job of a lifetime, etc. But this is huge. It’s like getting a double PhD if that were even possible!!!

    In my work I had a pivotal moment somewhat like this when I realized that my parents were actively aggressive and taking from me as a child and that they would continue to try to take every bit of my essence. I write this out and it seems so simple, but oh it was not at all. My point is that it felt like it was a moment where I came to the center of a labyrinth. Things would never be the same, it was the thing I couldn’t tell myself or allow to be true for so long, but now knowing it would change everything. It felt like I would walk out of the labyrinth center a changed woman but that I would have to encounter all the old traps and tricks again in my life from this new awareness. Indeed it has felt like that and been hard and painful, but it’s been awesome to know who I really am now as I face all those old situations and to see that I really can stand being myself with this new information and enjoy my life with a new freedom. Thankfully, the journey out of the labyrinth has gone a heck of a lot quicker than the journey in!!

    I offer this to you as perhaps this metaphor may also resonate with you. Or not.

    Much love to you as you navigate whatever is next for you and thank you for being so expressive about your own path and making mine less lonely.


    • May 5, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      Hi Heather,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I am very glad to hear that reading here helps you feel less lonely, it’s amazing how much it helps to know that other’s understand. I also very much appreciated your affirmation about what a landmark this was. Your metaphor about the labyrinth very much resonated with me.. I use the analogy of moving the furniture. That these breakthrough moments cause me to move everything around internally and place it in new relationships with each other. We continue to tell our story, changing it as more facts come to light. I am sorry for how your parents treated you, but glad that finding clarity about that has been so freeing. The truth shall set you free. And you’re right, it’s faster once you’ve got past the core. 🙂 Each step of healing makes you stronger and speeds of the healing. I hope to hear from you again. ~ AG


  23. May 5, 2015 at 10:07 am

    I LOVE your articles! I look forward to reading your next article!


    • May 5, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      Hi Nina,
      Welcome to my blog, thanks for taking the time to say you enjoyed reading it. ~ AG


  24. B
    May 21, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Thanks so much for your blog posts.
    I’m only a college student but I’m doing a lot of this work earlier in life.
    I have an extensive childhood sexual abuse history as well.
    Every time I am challenged inside the therapy room or outside of it, I ask myself “why is this happening FOR me” as opposed to “why is this happening TO me.” There is a lesson in everything… Challenges are gifts in disguise.
    In one of my most recent therapy sessions, I dealt with re-experiencing a particular traumatic event. In “real life,” I am highly integrated, but in front of my therapist, I let myself go– as after all, feeling is requisite to healing. I could smell things, taste things, hear things…etc… And even though my T was across from me telling me that she was there/ it was over/ I was safe repeatedly, I felt so alone. At the end of the session, she hugged me for awhile. It sounds like BN held you too in that space. Like you, I was incredibly grateful. And also like you, I wish I knew my T outside of her office but I understand, respect, and value therapeutic boundaries. (My T also does EMDR… Great for trauma… As is somatic experiencing)
    Yes, Bessel’s book is great! Have you tried yoga as an adjunctive treatment? It’s been instrumental to my recovery from trauma. As Bessel notes; talk therapy is “top-down” and yoga therapy is “bottom-up.” You need both to heal!
    I recommend “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body” by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper.
    As well as “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach (a Buddhist psychotherapist… Stephen Cope– the man you quoted is also a Buddhist psychotherapist, who has awesome books as is Mark Epstein– check them out… Dan Siegel too– interpersonal neurobiology) It’s a psycho-spiritual perspective on healing with some meditations. Tara also has meditations/ talks on YouTube… http://youtu.be/a25T4KlaQDs
    I dunno if it will resonate with you, but some of these Buddhist concepts have served to quell my existential sufferings…
    Keep going, keep feeling. Keep braving recovery.
    And as for the food stuff, keep doing what your highest self knows is best for you. I have the opposite issue (my tendency is to restrict my food) but both behaviors come from the same place… They’re different manifestations of the same inner conflicts… Shame, fear…etc…
    All we need is a sense of purposefulness and connectedness to survive/ thrive.
    Sending lots of healing energy to you!,


    • May 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Hi B,
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. I am glad that you are tackling your healing at such a young age; in retrospect, I wish I had been further along with my issues when I was raising my kids. I understand coming at this with a “challenges are a gift” attitude, as I know that I have gained strengths, insights and skills from having to heal that I am very grateful for. But I prefer to see it as good’s triumph, that God can bring good things even out of evil deeds. Thanks for all the resources, I was aware of most of them , but had not heard of the Emerson book. Funny you mention yoga. 🙂 BN has mentioned it a number of times, but what finally convinced me was the chapter in van der Kolk’s book on it (that’s where I also found out about Steven Cope. van der Kolk used a quote by him to open one of the chapters in the book. It resonated so strongly that I sent it to BN and we have both referred to it a number of times.) I have been looking into trying to start some kind of program. BTW, LOVE Dan Seigel, I’ve read a number of his books (although I will confess some have been slow going!) I really appreciate all the encouragement! ~ AG


  25. B
    May 21, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Here’s a poem I love called Willingness by Danna Faulds:

    In the willingness to feel,
    there is healing.
    In the choice not to closet, cast aside, or deny experience,
    Energy is freed and I dive deeper into life.
    There may be maturity in choosing not to act,
    But there are no rewards for suppression and denial.
    To be fully alive is saying yes to the wide array of human feelings.
    When I soften, release, and breathe,
    I discover I am more than what I think, feel, reason, or believe.


    • May 23, 2015 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks, that’s a very powerful poem, can see why you love it! Thanks for sharing. ~ AG


  26. B
    May 26, 2015 at 3:39 am

    And another:

    My beloved child break your heart no longer.
    Every time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.
    You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality.
    The time has come.
    Your time.
    To live.
    To celebrate.
    And to see the goodness that you are.
    You, my child, are divine.
    You are pure.
    You are sublimely free.
    You are God in disguise and you are always perfectly safe.
    Do not fight the dark.
    Just turn on the light and breathe into the goodness that you are.
    -Swami Kripalu
    — gotten me through a rough day or two.
    Good things can most certainly come out of evil deeds.



  27. B
    May 26, 2015 at 3:44 am

    PS. have you ever struggled with insomnia? If so, what has worked for you?
    All my memories come back at night & I have difficulty sleeping.


  28. B
    May 26, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Also… Another book you might appreciate if you haven’t heard of it: “love’s executioner” by Irvin Yalom. It’s about psychotherapy/ relationships. And it is GOOD stuff!


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