Therapy

Most of you will know that I have been in personal therapy for the last 16 months. When I made the decision to end my relationship I knew I would need help. To stay true to my innermost feelings and not crumple and take him back, as I had done so often before.

I didn’t consciously know that there was lots of other “stuff” that I needed to work through, although I sort of did – after all you don’t usually end up with a wreckage of a personal life if you are a fully psychologically healthy person.

I have done ‘therapy’ before; most notably with my ex husband when it was clear our marriage was in huge trouble. I am now thinking that part of the reason it didn’t really ‘click’ before was because a) I was still drinking and b) I was not able to be fully honest.

Obviously if one keeps back “unacceptable” thoughts and feelings, one shouldn’t really be surprised if no significant progress is made. Its only now that I realise that this is exactly what i did. The keeping back thoughts that I had internally, perhaps in a bid to be seen as ‘normal’ or ‘nice’ simply led to the therapist not being able to do her /his job properly and help me to reflect on what I was feeling. On reflection I think it would have been hard for me to share , partly because I was drinking every day to numb the difficult feelings, partly because I knew that airing them (and subsequently reflecting on them) would have meant that I would have been unable to continue as I was, and it was too hard to contemplate change. I was only this time, once I had ALREADY made the changes that i knew I had to, that I have been able to open up the deeper thoughts, insecurities and anxieties.

Ive been thinking about WHY I found it so hard to contemplate leaving my marriage and then my relationship with exP. It was perfectly obvious that both relationships were dead, neither man was prepared to do anything to compromise and both treated me very badly indeed. In both cases I left it far too long, in the hope that things would change, in both cases I accepted things that I should not have, because they were extremely detrimental to my self esteem, unhealthy for my children and made me utterly wretched.

With my marriage, its perhaps easier to understand why I tried so hard. We had children together, our finances were linked, our relationship legally formalised. I made vows in church, which I took very seriously and believed in –  I think I upheld my side of the bargain. At times I really struggled with the fact that I had made those vows, but chose to end the marriage – I was hugely helped by friends who reminded me that HE did not uphold his end of the bargain (love, honour and cherish ?) and that a marriage made under false pretenses falls under Catholic doctrine as capable of annulment. Addiction in one partner is a grounds for annulment and although I am not Catholic, I find this comforting – that even the very strict Catholic Church doesn’t hold you to your vows in these circumstances. No such thing exists in the Church of England, and anyway I’m not sure about the status of the children if I went this route, but morally it makes me feel better. I also know I tried as hard as I could, but in the end there was no respect and no trust left, and without trust and respect there is no marriage.

So, what of this therapy?I have realised in the last few weeks, that this is the place why I at LAST feel able to be completely honest. Its taken time. I liked Angela enormously immediately and her warmth and compassion made me feel accepted, but I have realised that it extends further than that; Instinctively I knew i wanted a woman therapist, my own age or older, who had experience and could ‘hold’ my emotions. I do this myself for so many of my patents, offer a non judgemental space, but I hadn’t consciously realised I was looking for this myself.

It feels like I can ‘test’ just being me in the therapist’s room. Not censoring what I say, not keeping stuff back and presenting only the acceptable face – but what I REALLY feel. Because Angela doesn’t critisise, or tell me I ‘shouldn’t’ feel or do as I have felt /done, indeed she indicates that my feelings and actions are OK, I find it hugely validating. All my adult life I have felt that I am ‘wanting’, not good enough, have messed up, could do better, make stupid decisions… and now someone older, wiser and a person I respect is telling me that actually I’m OK. And, most importantly, shes telling me I am OK despite all the things I have done….

My sober sister has this function for me in relation to my drinking. Because she is just like me, a woman with kids who has a responsible high powered career, and drank like me – too much, but not so that she lost her job / family. We have laughed and metaphorically cried together about stupid scary things we did when drunk – and I know I don’t have to hide anything from her because she gets it.

It reminds me of my youngest son, aged about 6, saying to me “Mummy, you know everyone thinks I’m nice and helpful at school? I’m not really, inside I have lots of nasty thoughts’ – My job that day was to explain to my little boy that its ok to feel how you feel …

And now I think I have that space for me. It took well over a year before I could say I completely trusted Angela, not that i was not honest, but just that there was probably some reserve in my heart about saying things – I think I was expecting to be judged, pointed in the right direction, chastised, reminded that x or y was a BAD idea… essentially ‘rejected’ ..is this expecting the same reaction I get from my mother ? or from my ‘critical monkey on my shoulder’ my own inner (harsh) critic …

A lot to think about. Not least that writing this has made me cry …

 

Low

Feeling unspeakably awful this morning after a bitter argument with son2 (15) . He hates me. He blames me for his ‘shit life’ and the anger and criticism of my choices – in particular my relationship with ExP – was furiously, eloquently and viciously expressed.

I know he’s 15. I know much of what he says / thinks comes from his father who has enjoyed filling his head with adult thoughts. I know he’s anxious about public exams at the end of this year. I know this..

But, but … it’s pretty crap. And pretty depressing. And not, it seems, solvable

Arrested development

I’ve been thinking a lot about the saying that (and I paraphrase) “people with addictions stop developing psychologically at the point their addictions take hold” 

I’ve been looking into this a bit and the first thing that struck me was that obviously alcohol is interwoven with mental health problems. in other words Mental health problems not only result from drinking too much alcohol, they can also cause people to drink too much.

Put very simply, a major reason for drinking alcohol is to change our mood – or our mental state. Alcohol can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression – I used it myself for this very reason, as do countless others who ‘treat’ themselves to  a drink at the end of a hard day / week. Drinking is often used as a form of ‘self-medication’ in an attempt to cheer themselves up or sometimes help with sleep. Drinking to deal with difficult feelings or symptoms of mental illness is sometimes called ‘self-medication’ by people in the mental health field. This is often why people with mental health problems drink.

Drinking lowers inhibition. Typically, excessive alcohol consumption means fewer personal constraints are in place. Again most heavy drinkers can testify to this, the shame, regret and embarrassment about things done drunk are one thing I never miss about my drinking days.  Alcohol also depresses the central nervous system, and this can make our moods fluctuate. It can also help ‘numb’ our emotions, so we can avoid difficult issues in our lives.

Alcohol can also reveal or intensify our underlying feelings, such as evoking past memories of trauma or sparking any repressed feelings which are associated with painful events. . These memories can be so powerful that they create overwhelming anxiety, depression or shame. Re-living these memories and dark feelings whilst under the influence of alcohol can pose a threat to personal safety as well as the safety of others. I was never an aggressive drunk, I was a sloppy, oversharing, sleepy, messy drunk; but there were times when I said what I thought with less inhibition due to alcohol. Sharing things I might otherwise have kept under wraps, crying more easily, telling people what I really felt.

One of the main problems associated with using alcohol to deal with mental health problems is that regular consumption of alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain. It decreases the levels of the brain chemical serotonin – a key chemical in depression. As a result of this depletion, a cyclical process begins where one drinks to relieve depression, which causes serotonin levels in the brain to be depleted, leading to one feeling even more depressed, and thus necessitating even more alcohol to then medicate this depression.

I’ve had three episodes of ‘clinical’ depression in my life, I now take a SSRI in a decent and hefty dose and I expect I will for the remainder of my working life. The worst episode or anxiety / depression I had,  I was actually sober and had been for 5 months or so. I believe that sobriety gave the clarity and allowed me to see and actually FEEL how bad things were. Its interesting to me that theoretically I SHOULD feel better (less depressed) now I don’t drink, but actually I think I feel MORE depressed (at the moment) because I’m having to deal with everything with no handy ‘crutch’ to take the edge off the difficulties.

So that’s alcohol and ‘mental health’ ; my own conclusions ? In a nutshell … I drank because I liked escaping from my inner demons of self disgust and inadequacy… the drinking however fuelled these feelings and made me feel even worse about myself.

 

What about the “arrested development”  theory in those with addiction?  What about it for ME? The theory goes that those who venture into addiction often demonstrate a stunting in their emotional development and that this disruption of our psychological development basically stops our growth at whatever age/stage the chemical becomes our focus.

The longer I am in recovery, the more clear it is to me how stunted I was, by my addiction, or by something else? I often wonder if I can pinpoint the age I stopped growing emotionally and spiritually. Seems like it falls somewhere between the ages of 25 and 27, when I qualified and probably started drinking more heavily. Although as I was working one night in three, as well as a standard working week, I was certainly not drinking every day. Drinking every day didn’t start until I was at least 35, when I gave up doing OOH work. Is that where I got stuck ?

I don’t know why I’m fixated on my own immaturity and lack of emotional development. It pretty pointless and just one more stick to beat myself with, and I doubt its possible to predict what ‘I would have been like’ or how my life ‘would have turned out’ If I have never drunk too much…

Lately I feel like I am coming more up to my age group / behaving more like a 50’s ish woman, though I am aware that I still act younger than my actual age. I am not sure whether this childishness is just a permanent feature of my personality or if I still need more recovery time to get my spiritual/emotional maturity up to the level of my actual age. Really it doesn’t matter so long as I never stop growing.

Researchers were able to identify solid links between adolescent substance abuse and adverse adult outcomes. Though adults are expected to display an advanced sense of wisdom and a heightened understanding of consequences, these traits can be stunted by addiction. Those who drink large volumes of alcohol or abuse drugs early in life will generally experience problems with emotional maturity. That’s why most of the choices made during active addiction do not reflect the actions of a responsible adult.

Rose and his colleagues at the Indiana University evaluatued data from more than 3,000 Finnish twins. They found that substance abuse, poor health, physical symptoms, multiple sexual partners, life dissatisfaction, truncated education, and financial problems were consistent among the individuals who started abusing drugs or alcohol early in life. I guess I’m lucky then , in that I have a good education, good job, pretty good health and a satisfying life…

Looking at psychosocial ‘development’ I came across Eriksons theories of developmental milestones. I’m a incomplete novice at this stuff so forgive me if you have heard it all before …

1. Trust vs. Mistrust

Is the world a safe place or is it full of unpredictable events and accidents waiting to happen? Erikson’s first psychosocial crisis occurs during the first year or so of life (like Freud’s oral stage of psychosexual development). The crisis is one of trust vs. mistrust. During this stage, the infant is uncertain about the world in which they live. To resolve these feelings of uncertainty, the infant looks towards their primary caregiver for stability and consistency of care.

If the care the infant receives is consistent, predictable and reliable, they will develop a sense of trust which will carry with them to other relationships, and they will be able to feel secure even when threatened. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of hope. By developing a sense of trust, the infant can have hope that as new crises arise, there is a real possibility that other people will be there as a source of support. Failing to acquire the virtue of hope will lead to the development of fear.

For example, if the care has been harsh or inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable, then the infant will develop a sense of mistrust and will not have confidence in the world around them or in their abilities to influence events.

This infant will carry the basic sense of mistrust with them to other relationships. It may result in anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them.

 

2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

The child is developing physically and becoming more mobile. Between the ages of 18 months and three, children begin to assert their independence, by walking away from their mother, picking which toy to play with, and making choices about what they like to wear, to eat, etc.

The child is discovering that he or she has many skills and abilities, such as putting on clothes and shoes, playing with toys, etc. Such skills illustrate the child’s growing sense of independence and autonomy. Erikson states it is critical that parents allow their children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging environment which is tolerant of failure.

For example, rather than put on a child’s clothes a supportive parent should have the patience to allow the child to try until they succeed or ask for assistance. So, the parents need to encourage the child to become more independent while at the same time protecting the child so that constant failure is avoided.

A delicate balance is required from the parent. They must try not to do everything for the child, but if the child fails at a particular task they must not criticize the child for failures and accidents (particularly when toilet training). The aim has to be “self control without a loss of self-esteem” . Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.

If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they become more confident and secure in their own ability to survive in the world.

If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive, and may then become overly dependent upon others,lack self esteem and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their abilities.

3. Initiative vs. Guilt

Around age three and continuing to age five, children assert themselves more frequently. These are particularly lively, rapid-developing years in a child’s life. During this period the primary feature involves the child regularly interacting with other children at school. Central to this stage is play, as it provides children with the opportunity to explore their interpersonal skills through initiating activities.

Conversely, if this tendency is squelched, either through criticism or control, children develop a sense of guilt. They may feel like a nuisance to others and will, therefore, remain followers, lacking in self-initiative.

The child takes initiatives which the parents will often try to stop in order to protect the child. The child will often overstep the mark in his forcefulness, and the danger is that the parents will tend to punish the child and restrict his initiatives too much.

It is at this stage that the child will begin to ask many questions as his thirst for knowledge grows. If the parents treat the child’s questions as trivial, a nuisance or embarrassing or other aspects of their behavior as threatening then the child may have feelings of guilt for “being a nuisance”.

Too much guilt can make the child slow to interact with others and may inhibit their creativity. Some guilt is, of course, necessary; otherwise the child would not know how to exercise self-control or have a conscience.

A healthy balance between initiative and guilt is important. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of purpose.

4. Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority

Industry versus inferiority is the fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. The stage occurs during childhood between the ages of five and twelve. Children are at the stage where they will be learning to read and write, to do sums, to do things on their own. Teachers begin to take an important role in the child’s life as they teach the child specific skills.

It is at this stage that the child’s peer group will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self-esteem. The child now feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies that are valued by society and begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals. If this initiative is not encouraged, if it is restricted by parents or teacher, then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and therefore may not reach his or her potential.

If the child cannot develop the specific skill they feel society is demanding (e.g., being athletic) then they may develop a sense of inferiority. Some failure may be necessary so that the child can develop some modesty. Again, a balance between competence and modesty is necessary. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence.

5. Identity vs. Role Confusion

The fifth stage is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals.

The adolescent mind is essentially a mind or moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult (Erikson, 1963, p. 245)

During adolescence, the transition from childhood to adulthood is most important. Children are becoming more independent, and begin to look at the future in terms of career, relationships, families, housing, etc. The individual wants to belong to a society and fit in.

This is a major stage of development where the child has to learn the roles  he will occupy as an adult. It is during this stage that the adolescent will re-examine his identity and try to find out exactly who he or she is. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved: the sexual and the occupational.

what should happen at the end of this stage is “a reintegrated sense of self, of what one wants to do or be, and of one’s appropriate sex role”. During this stage the body image of the adolescent changes.

Erikson claims that the adolescent may feel uncomfortable about their body for a while until they can adapt and “grow into” the changes. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of fidelity.

Fidelity involves being able to commit one’s self to others on the basis of accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences.

During this period, they explore possibilities and begin to form their own identity based upon the outcome of their explorations. Failure to establish a sense of identity within society (“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”) can lead to role confusion. Role confusion involves the individual not being sure about themselves or their place in society.

In response to role confusion or identity crisis, an adolescent may begin to experiment with different lifestyles (e.g., work, education or political activities). Also pressuring someone into an identity can result in rebellion in the form of establishing a negative identity, and in addition to this feeling of unhappiness.

6. Intimacy vs. Isolation

Occurring in young adulthood (ages 18 to 40 yrs), we begin to share ourselves more intimately with others. We explore relationships leading toward longer-term commitments with someone other than a family member.

Successful completion of this stage can result in happy relationships and a sense of commitment, safety, and care within a relationship. Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love.

7. Generativity vs. Stagnation

During middle adulthood (ages 40 to 65 yrs), we establish our careers, settle down within a relationship, begin our own families and develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture.

We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations.

By failing to achieve these objectives, we become stagnant and feel unproductive. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of care.

8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair

As we grow older (65+ yrs) and become senior citizens, we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person. It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life.

Erik Erikson believed if we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our past, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.

Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness, and also accept death without fear.

Erikson’s theory has good face validity. Its easy to read and understand I expect anyone who read this will, as I did, recognise these stages of life development. BUT  Erikson is rather vague about the causes of development. What kinds of experiences must people have to successfully resolve various psychosocial conflicts and move from one stage to another? And what happens if they dont ? and where does addiction fit in? and what if some stages are completed ok, but others not ?

I will write an ‘arrested development 2’ in a few days ….

 

Self esteem 2

In sociology and psychology, self-esteem reflects a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself, (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”), as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame.

I have identified my own self esteem as low, and really looked at that over the last 16 months of therapy. I’ve explored where the aberrant thinking originates, and how subsequent experiences have magnified and reinforced that. I’ve picked over the consequences and tried to learn from my mistakes. I can appreciate that objectively I am a successful kind and worthwhile person who does her best to treat others well… I have recognised that I show significantly more compassion and care to others than I do to myself, and I have reflected on my mistakes and tried to forgive myself.

Now I feel that I’m moving on from a very low place, I catch glimpses of , if not profound happiness, then contentment. The ‘basics’ are in place: home feels safe, my finances are in a better place,

Looking at the above pyramid, the first two are now ok…. it’s a good base.

Looking upwards, I need to work on the self esteem issue. Passively waiting for things to improve is ok, and obviously change does not come overnight, but there are things I can actively do to help things along.

It helps that I am no longer doing anything that I actively “disapprove” of. I’m not drinking, which means I have none of the associated shame of hangovers, wasted time, embarrassment at what I might have said … I’m no longer living with a man I believe to be harming my children. Equally I’m no longer living with a man who actively puts me down , and thus I am much freer to develop positive feelings about myself.

I’ve been looking next at what I am NOT doing that I believe I should be …

First is some kind of regular exercise… I used to run; not fast and not that far, but I did run… I enjoyed it, and more importantly it made me feel good about myself. Running is a good option, because you don’t need expensive equipment, a gym, or to travel anywhere, you just put on your running shoes and go … so my next plan is to start running again. Gently, not pushing myself too hard, but just getting out there will boost my self esteem …

And next week I’m going to get my hair cut and coloured. I’m going to go through my wardrobe and make a charity shop run of the things I no longer wear.

The second thing I’m going to do, in a 6 month project, is look at decluttering… not in a hurry, but methodically … so that by the end, Everything has a “home” and I can find everything I want /need.

And last, but not least, I am going to pay some attention to my diet. It’s pretty hit and miss right now, some days I eat very well, and others I exist on chocolate and biscuits. Again, one step at a time, I’m going to improve my diet …. with the goal of eliminating (or at least reducing) snacking on junk, and increasing my vegetable intake.

I hope these three things, quite simple in themselves, will help me in my project of boosting my self esteem …

Adventure …

I have just booked a week in January to go to Nepal and visit son1.

I am SUPER excited and really really looking forward to it! A very kind friend of the family has volunteered to come and mind the home /children/dog whilst I am away…

Just me, going on an adventure ….

For the first time in absolutely AGES i feel like I have something to really look forward to, and travelling alone is surprisingly cheap !

 

A new perspective

Last night I spent the evening with my closest friend K. She has been there through the last 10+ years and offered no judgemental support and reflection for me. Ironically I was introduced to K and her husband J by my ex husband, and they have become my staunchest and kindest supporters despite my marriage breakdown.

K has always been perceptive, and last night she presented to me an “outsiders view” … of me and my situation. She picked the right time to do this. I’m definitely feeling more positive at the moment- I feel that I’m finally moving on and putting the past behind me.

Right now I don’t look at my last relationship as I was doing. I don’t feel the same. I was feeling that it would be impossible for me to care for anyone else as I had cared for him. That I literally could not conceive of loving someone else as I once loved him.

This feeling has been hard to shake off, and has taken me back again and again, to see if anything had changed. Hoping I guess that something would have shifted in his thinking so that we could, I could, try again. It didn’t happen, and I seem to have at last been able to accept this. The overwhelming problems are just not surmountable , and actually I’m not even sure I would WANT to overcome them.

Simultaneously the single life suddenly seems to have more possibilities … the inertia and ennui that has dogged me for months seems to be lifting, I can feel energy coming back; energy and purpose …

so, yesterday K outlined to me how an outsider might look at me. She pointed out that I have a nice house and comfortable home, that I have earned. That it has been my industry that has created this, with no financial support from any other person. She reminded me that I am not just a doctor, but one of a small number of partners running a large successful practice with more than 100 employees and 26,000 patients. That I look well, am resourceful and determined; that I am kind, loyal and honest.. in short she was trying to get me to see that an outsider could see me as ‘a catch’… that I should not sell myself short. That I should stand up and be proud of what I have achieved ….and that I am worth much much more than being put down by some bloke.

I think she has tried to say this to me before, but I’ve not been able to hear and believe it.

Yesterday I heard it, and whilst I Wouldn’t say I 100% believed It… as in “felt” it, I can see that technically she is correct, and perhaps I should raise my expectations …

This is a work in progress . Slow going. And I’m in no hurry to meet anyone at all right now … but …. food for thought

Giving up

A year ago, after the breakdown of my relationship I decided to get a second dog. As there were longer periods with no one at home, I thought it would be nice for Lola, our collie, to have a companion. Lola had been, and remains, a delight for our family ; and easy friendly placid dog who is loyal, affectionate and sensitive to Human mood. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wept into her neck and been comforted by her obvious concern. 

I thought a new puppy would give us all hope and cheer, as well as being a friend for Lola. So I contacted Lola’s breeder and arranged to see her latest litter of puppies. Acting on advice we decided to get a dog puppy this time, and chose a Grey collie. 

It wasn’t easy right from the start. Slower to train than Lola, the puppy chewed relentlessly , he was anxious at socialisation classes, became distressed when the TV was on, peed in corners long after he knew where the garden was. By the time he was 4 months old he had become aggressive around food,growling and snapping when anyone went near. He hated being brushed, nipping and twisting away. 

We took him to the Vet who could not find a physical reason for his anxiety, and have me the name of a behaviourist who came to the home and worked with us. This didn’t really help to be honest and Jasper started Being aggressive to other dogs when out walking. At about this time the dog walker said he could no longer safely walk Jasper, due to his aggressive behaviour with the other dogs. 

I researched a residential training programme, and after talking with them, sent Jasper (at great expense ) away for 6 weeks retraining.

He came back in the middle of August transformed.

But it didn’t last. 

Last week my current dog walker,who now takes only my dogs out, told me Jasper had got into two fights with other dogs. He did similar when son3 took him to the local park with a friend. He’s resource guarding again and snapped at me yesterday when I went to put the refilled water bowl down. 

I realised how very stressful all this is for me, and that though I love him,we all love him, we are not the right Home for him. He needs much more activity and interaction than we can provide : and so with a heavy heart I have decided to re home him. The breeder has agreed to take him back, so I know he will be ok. 

I feel guilty, relieved and sad. He is such a loyal dog I know he will miss us, and we will miss him .. I think it is the right thing to do , but it’s hard , 

Honesty

Being really, really honest in intimate relationships has always been hard for me. Not that I lie in day to day interactions, or about what I DO, but rather I suppress what I really feel and have often said something is ‘fine’ when it is really NOT ‘fine’ with me at all.

And then I’d have a drink to make myself feel better. To suppress my dissonant feelings under the surface

Lie’s by omission really, lies about how I ‘feel’, probably because I fear conflict, or I fear that what I feel or think is not valid or important. Sometimes I think I stuff down my unacceptable emotions of anger, resentment or anxiety because I don’t want to appear flawed. There is also an element of ‘I can manage this’ and holding all the problems generated by someone else’s behaviour, rather than putting the responsibility back where it belongs. In the mix is, I think, a fear that what I want will be ignored by those closest to me anyway, so why bother to say it? Why make a big deal out of what I think is important when it will make someone else unhappy / stressed/ uncomfortable? And in turn, their ignoring what I have articulated as important, will make me angry.

I have lived like this all my life. My earliest role models for relationships were exactly like this. My mother asking for something, and my father doing and giving nothing. And I have modelled this in every (intimate) relationship I have ever had.

I never saw my parents argue respectfully about something. I never saw them disagree but my father shift himself to change because it would ease pressure on my mother or reduce her workload. I never saw a ‘partnership’ working. Add to that feeling constantly critisised and never good enough by my primary role model, and no wonder I have / had a very warped sense of what ‘relationships’ are about.

When I say that I have a problem with ‘trust’ this is what I mean. Its very hard (in fact it’s been impossible) for me to trust another person with my true feelings, to believe that that person could will love me however flawed and imperfect I am. However unacceptable my emotion or reaction. somewhere inside I feel that any affection that people have for me is conditional, Conditional on my helping them, behaving well, meeting their expectations, not having unacceptable feelings or responses. Conditional on my respecting their wishes and feelings, conditional on ‘being GOOD’

I think this relates back to the whole self esteem thing. If you feel fundamentally unlovable then it’s a natural extension to try and present a front that will be acceptable and lovable. When taken too far – as I have done, it becomes a huge toxic mess where the ‘real feelings’ are suppressed beneath a veneer of ‘niceness’ whilst underneath, with no space to escape, the real feelings of being taken advantage of, or resentment, or anger and frustration seethe away.

This is one of the areas where therapy helps. It is a small space in a hectic world where I CAN just be me, where I don’t feel judged or critisised, where I can voice ‘unacceptable’ feelings and thoughts and have then accepted as mine. Through this process I hope I can learn that my feelings are just what they are, that they are neither right nor wrong , but just part of me. Through it I hope I can learn that I am no more and no less flawed than anyone else, and that what I feel and want and need has as much validity as what anyone else feels or wants or needs. I hope that I will learn (have learned? am learning?) is that suppression of my own wishes does not lead to calmer waters, but rather to a specific kind of hell for me, where my true self is ignored, overlooked and subjugated to the stronger will of others. That in this place, where I DON’T COUNT, there can be no happiness or peace for me, because I’m not even asking for what I want.

And that doesn’t work long term. It just doesn’t. Because how ever much I try to deny what I want, I still want it. However much I tell myself that ‘It doesnt matter’, It really does. And the wants don’t go away, they just fester and burrow through relationships like woodworm, leaving a crumbling damaged facade that supports nothing.

It was not wrong to want a husband who did not take drugs. It was not wrong to want a partner who could support himself. These things are ok to want, they are ok to need and they are even ok to insist upon. What would have happened had I insisted on them from the start ?

One of the barriers to real intimacy is honesty, amongst other things this means the willingness and capacity to be truly honest about what you want / need from a partner. To be accepted for who you really are, someone has to know who you really are, and in order for that to happen you (I) would have to SAY it (as no-one is a mindreader).

There are a thousand more thoughts I have about this right now. It feels like a very important thought process that I’m just grasping the edges of… a start to rebuilding from the bottom up. If I could believe that I have a right to think / feel as I actually DO… then I think everything could be changed …

co-dependency

I had a very illuminating therapy session last night.

Illuminating in a number of ways. First because I realised I was expecting to be ‘told off’ for seeing my ExP. Told off and critisised, and possibly end up feeling that I had let Angela (my counsellor) down. That feeling, that I had ‘let her down’ comes from having spent the last 14 months working hard with me, only for me to go and sabotage the efforts by revisiting the very person who cause so much pain and heartache.

The expectation that I would be critisised, because I had dome something ‘wrong’ and ‘stupid’ comes straight from my childhood- and that attitude from my mother persists in the way she treats me to the present day.

Of course that’s not what happened, and the acceptance from Angela that I am an autonomous person, and not an idiot, that there are many nuances to any story gave me the courage to examine my motivations in more detail.

We looked at my feelings about the early days of the relationship, and my conviction that I had met ‘the’ person; and what that meant, how his strength and conviction provided me with the courage to stick to my beliefs and move forward from my marriage. How my extreme fragility at that time(even though I wasn’t fully aware of it) attracted me to his emotional support We talked about how my lack of self confidence and need to ‘rescue’ set me up to be the financial ‘giver’ and how that met some needs in me. The very low self esteem I have written about before meant that, in some ways, by providing something that he indisputably ‘needed’ (money) made me feel more secure, in a way I might not have with someone more independent.

We talked about co-dependency / interdependency as a framework for looking at why this relationship met so many of my needs as well as his.  Co-dependency is a word used to describe an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. Co-dependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior. Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. This is me exactly. Codependency does not refer to all caring behavior or feelings, but only those that are excessive to an unhealthy degree. One of the distinctions is that healthy empathy and care-giving is motivated by conscious choice; whereas for codependents, their actions are compulsive, and they usually aren’t able to weigh in the consequences of them or their own needs that they’re sacrificing. Some codependents often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. These helper types are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs. I think I was, to some extent, dependent on his lack of income, to make myself feel secure: why would he be with me otherwise?

Alongside that come a fear of intimacy / trust issues on both sides. I don’t mean trust as in infidelity, but deep trust, that you partner will care for you and support you whatever – and we both came with baggage; his from a broken marriage which was very damaging, and me from my past and my marriage to a drug addict.

I have also recognised how very, very much I am afraid of being ‘alone’ . No on a day to day basis, on the contrary, a ‘day to myself’ is a luxury I enjoy at the moment – but in the long term, being without a partner to do stuff with, to go on holiday with, to build a future with. Angela raised this with me ages ago, and because ‘day to day’ I am happy alone, I couldn’t see that I HATE the idea of being alone for ever. This is undoubtedly a pull back to the familiar being in a ‘relationship’ scenario.

Also featuring in there somehow, is the complete lack of ‘drama’ in my life as it is now. Nothing bad, but nothing very good either. Its all a bit humdrum. No drinking removes the highs (and lows) from a drunken evening, Its hard for me to relax in social situations without alcohol, so although I can do it, I don’t enjoy social gatherings as much as I once did. For someone who has lived the majority of the last 30 years with some drama of another – some extremes of emotion featuring quite highly in the picture of my life, the humdrum / lack of anything to get excited about, is hard; I feel ’empty’ with no way of crawling out of the shade into the sunlight.

Talking about this stuff, in a non judgmental way was so helpful. I don’t have any answers yet, but I do at least have a framework of thoughts and behaviours to look at. The future is still unknown and the issues haven’t gone away, but perhaps I am understanding the drivers behind my feelings rather better….

 

 

Re visiting

Yesterday I met my exPartner for a coffee.

Its been 14 months since we separated, and at my instigation we have had no contact at all since June this year. I had expected this to ‘help’ me get over it / him. But it hasn’t. I dont know why, given all that has happened, all I have written, all the difficult, stressful and horrible things that the relationship brought with it, I have not been able to shake off the feeling that he was the person I am supposed to be with.

Despite ‘seeing’ so much that was wrong, despite being so angry with him, despite my despair at his non-relationship with son#1, I have thought about him so often, and have really struggled to accept that its over.

Last week I sent him an email. I dont know what I hoped to achieve, I just got so tired of turning the whole thing over and over in my head – maybe I was looking for answers. He is of course the only person who can give me any answers.

Musing over the proposed meeting with my best friend K, she asked me what I wanted out of it, and how likely I was to get ‘that’; what would the best outcome be? And the worst? The worst possible outcome was easy – If I found out he was blissfully happy with someone else – I have had recurring dreams about this, and woken up anxious and unhappy. The best outcome ? I couldn’t say.

So we met yesterday morning. Just sitting with him was like ‘peace’; an end to the relentless self questioning, a sense of belonging and rightness. I don’t understand it, but this is an honest blog, and that just how it was. I felt immediately less alone, and less stressed.

And we talked. And talked, and talked. Calmly, about most of the difficult subjects. I feel that he understood my issues, and my anger and frustration. I feel that he accepted why I acted as I did. I dont think he agreed with it. but at least understood how desperate I felt. I, in turn, listened and perhaps heard more of his perspective than I have before.

We talked for the best part of 3 hours.

What next ? I don’t know. I truly don’t know. Maybe there IS a way. Maybe there is an opportunity to build something new. Not as it was, but with a foundation that, despite all the hurt and pain and heartache, it seems we can neither of us move on without the other.

And, right now, I feel better. I have an appetite for the first time in months, I slept well last night. I have some small glimmer of optimism back, some small spark that has been missing for months…