Forty days ago, I wrote about going into a psychic wilderness for lent in an effort to connect with my grief over ending with my therapist.
Often, my default with endings is to deactivate my attachment system. The avoidant part of my personality kicks in. It feels so automatic, it is such a well worn neural pathway, it is difficult to stop or examine the process as it takes place in the blink of unconscious thought. Luckily, psychoanalysis is good for pausing the reel and replaying it, frame by frame so I can watch what I’m doing as it happens, on the couch.
So. This is what happens. I go numb. I fill my life with beautiful things and new, exciting people and adventures and plans. I forget almost instantly about the person I’m saying goodbye to. I can’t quite remember why they were so important to me. I reprimand myself for being so cold-hearted which distances me further from my felt experience. I yawn and fall asleep when I’m around them. Everything goes hazy. I know all of this because those are the familiar mirages and demons I encountered in the last 40 days over Lent: I watched myself be deluded by all of these spectacles in the unbearable heat.
This is not to knock my response. I have so much respect for this adaptation: the part of me that is avoidantly attached learned how to unplug from my nervous system when I was non consensually hauled off to the jungle and had to say goodbye to my teenage lifeworld. I probably deactivated my attachment system when I was an infant and couldn’t cope with my mother’s erratic care taking. It helped me survive the claustrophobia of depressed parents who didn’t have the capacity to enjoy their kids or life. It helped me survive neglect and invisibility. These are immense hardships for a kid and I’m glad that I developed coping strategies that lifted me out of my felt experience. Even if it means now that I really have to work hard if I want to be in touch with my own feelings.
And finally, a few days before Easter, I cried in a therapy session. About ending. I’d felt a little niggle, a little lurch in my stomach, a tightening in my chest at something I’d said about ending as I sat on his couch, our last session before the break. These are the make-or-break moments in emotional life. I either lean in to the niggling feeling or I wave it out of the way like a pesky fly. Having an emotional response often rests on a knifes edge for me, and it often is a split second instinctive choice. Instantly, I felt my mind wandering as I began yawning and checking out into some daydream about a walk I was looking forward to. I managed to catch myself and report this to therapist as I was doing it, and I went back to the embryonic, meagre, little sprout -of a -thought that had me tingling. The one I’d dismissed as selfish and hysterical and melodramatic.
I was surprised to be sad about this THING. I had imagined I would be sad about so many other things. Maybe more noble things. But not THIS. ‘What are you going to do with me when we finish together? Are you ever going to think about me again?’ I had an image of him boxing up all of my files (I have no idea if he keeps files of me) and putting them into some sort of inaccessible underground storage. ‘I know you have thought about me loads while we worked together but will you forget me when I’m gone? What will you do with eight years of Diana inside you? Just delete me? Where will you put me?’ I was embarrassed and sobbing at this point. I hate crying, it feels so exposing. Even after all these years.
I told him it doesn’t really matter what the answer actually is. And I know that is true. This is my shit, this is useful data for me. This is my particular fear of the dark, my ghosts, the question that haunts and tortures me. At least I know the question now, I know one of the co -ordinates of my grief. This Easter is not about the joy of welcoming a dead guy I’m happy about seeing. It’s about resurrecting a ghost I’m fucking terrified of meeting. This is the forever undead part of me that will chase me into the zombie dawn.
And it should have been obvious now that I think about it. ‘Being held in mind’ was the thing that knitted me back together, the kind attention I needed to flourish. He gave that to me and it stood in for what my parents were unable to give me, what I craved growing up. My memories are riddled with episode after episode of falling out of my parents minds: hours and hours stranded places when they forgot to pick me up and they didn’t pick up the phone. Their inward absorption in their own fantasy worlds, their work, their dreams of the future.
This is the white-hot core of my wounded heart. Being forgotten. That’s where it hurts when I touch it. That’s the place I’m tender and vulnerable, the place I avoid going. I found it. I opened the tomb. I hate being forgotten.
Copyright Diana Smith 2018
Winnicott’s notion of holding and being held in mind has been very useful to me over the years.