The importance of consistent reliable attachment

I now know a lot of my inner insecurity and fear and descent into addiction from the age of 17 comes from the removal or absence of significant attachments growing up.  The early loss of my sister to a new life far away from us was a wound that went deep but one I could not share with anyone or even fully understand at age 3.

When I look at photos of my sister’s wedding with myself in them I look sad and bewildered, like I don’t know what is going on.  I am the only child in those photographs and my sister and her new husband left on a boat for a different country the following day.  I imagine now the hole that was left by my sister’s absence then and now with the death of my Mum I feel the shadow imprints of that hole, but not as deeply for luckily over these past few years I have managed to reach out more to those I would love to share a friendship or connection with, those who I can say how I really feel and what I am really experiencing inside.

What I noticed over the lead up to my Mum’s funeral following her death was the insecurity and unreliability of many of my familial attachments.  My brother was the only fully physically present figure but he was not operating on an emotional level, so when he wanted to extend his support I found myself brushing it off.  With other family members I noticed they were just not there or were only there in a very inconsistent way.  When they were there I did a sideways dance due to fear and lack of trust

Due to my abandonment history I am not used to either consistency or reliability in attachments or support.  I am used to insecure unreliable attachments and those who try to fob me of or gain distance from me.   This was made clear to me this morning when I read the chapter Just Like A Timepiece in the book Beyond Borderline : True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder. 

In this story the sufferer speaks of making her first most significant attachment shortly after her first hospitalisation for the disorder.  The doctor she bonded and attached to then left the programme at the hospital and the sufferer then spiralled into addiction.  I could see as I read the clear connection between that emotional abandonment and the sufferer’s need to medicate her pain.   Luckily seven years later the teller of this story moves to a new town where the doctor who treated her is in practice as a therapist.  Through trust and courage she makes the attempt to connect to her and her therapist makes herself available 24/7 which is what one therapist told me years ago is the only thing that works for those of us with deeply disordered and insecure attachment experiences.

Looking back I see how many therapies broke for me when my therapist took a break.  I am also wondering at the wisdom of what my therapist told me this week, that by leaving me alone to cope she was helping me to build that resource inside or look to others.  Maybe there is a lot of truth in this but a deeper truth is at a time I really needed her 24/7 she refused to be there for me.  She told me this week when I went back to see her she was surprised I had come back, coolly and calmly she explained she thought she would not see me again.   It would have been no problem for her, but it would have been for me.  I would have had to find yet a new therapist, explain my story all over again and I have been with this therapist for 2 years now and that’s a lot of sessions building a knowing and a history.

I felt so sad when I read this story this morning.  Of course I was glad for the writer she was able to find such a consistent reliable attachment with her therapist, Dr. Chase.   She writes :

Dr Chase and I still continue to meet twice a week at the time of this writing.  She is by far the most important person in my life.  She has done more for me than anyone else I have ever known.  There are still moments when I struggle, and she is available to me at any moment, both night and day.  The diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is not an excuse for me.  Its is simply an explanation. I have begun to tentatively form friendships , although many times I still retreat within the safety of myself  The other day I found myself saying “I like myself.”

And I cry now.

I felt upset this morning that my own therapist does not provide that kind of support.  I felt I had no other alternative but to accept her boundaries last week, but that doesn’t mean I think they are right.  I think what she did to me over the time of Mum’s death was hard and unfair but I also know she had the best of intentions and understand her reasoning.  I am used to giving over in this way. Another person’s will and desire was stronger than my own.  She held all the power and control and I accepted it.  I could have left to start again with someone new I guess but what I get most of the time from Kat works.

I am going to find other sources of support next year.  Like the person who told the story I quoted from above I am now building in my own life growing connections with several people in my own life. I know the fears I have of abandonment relate back to very real experiences of being alone and abandoned when I most needed support.  With my Mum’s death around the anniversary of my Dad’s that empty black hole does open up within me some mornings.  But the difference is that now, armed with inner psychological awareness  I know the need I have to reach out, I can also reach inside for the love and understanding, it is where life has always forced me, so why argue with reality?

Yesterday I was brave enough to visit the husband of a good friend who was part of my trauma past in the aftermath of Dad’s death back in 1986 who had undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor on Thursday in the hospital where I spent 3 months following my accident at the end of 1979.  I needed a cup of coffee before I got there and he was doing well.  His wife was there and we talked for well over an hour.  I thought then as i drove home of how life and recovery is always trying to bring us full circle.  Recovery is like a spiral dance in which we pass over and re-experience old ground, pain, trauma and issues but with a new elevation or perspective on them.  At times we have to go into the fire and face or front up to those triggers or re-enactments, but armed with the knowledge we gain from our journey we grow in awareness on each revolution around the center of our self and past.

Many of my attachments broke all through out my life.  Some broke in later years due to unconscious fears, but many of them also held firm.  Those who have loved me have watched me battle with my need to connect amidst enormous fear.  They have stayed close but not too close and then there are those who over this most painful time have made real efforts to draw close and be near.   Their consistency in being there for me has made me aware that it is safe to trust in world I so long ago learned to doubt or fear.

Maybe it took my Mum’s death for this to all come full circle.  I don’t know.  I only know I am so grateful all these years later to be living just a little further outside of all of that insecurity and fear that plagued me unconsciously for so many years.  I will perhaps always carry deep insecure attachment and abandonment fears but hopefully with mindfulness they will no longer need to dominate my life so unconsciously and I can learn who is secure/safe for me to trust and place my faith in.

Broken / insecure attachments and anxiety

I am getting more awareness around my own anxiety issues these days.  I borrowed a book from the library on male borderline personality disorder and reading the section on attachments reminded me how much we can suffer and how insecure we can feel when in childhood early attachments were a source of pain.  If they were non existent or unreliable or if we suffered physical or emotional abandonment when young, then we never got to establish that sense of secure trust and holding that I mentioned in my post on the mother wound yesterday.  And without this it is nearly impossible to establish a secure sense of self.  We may struggle for a lot of our life with anxious feelings around being close, reaching out, establishing intimacy and depending and relying on others.

In a post I wrote a while back on avoidant attachment https://wordpress.com/post/emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/35898

I addressed how avoidance can be a response to being let down and emotionally abandoned as well and then that pattern is replayed.  Those of us with avoidant attachment may attract those with insecure attachment (really we are both insecure but one of us is invested in NOT showing it).  It can be hard for both parties to see their part and then the relationship can be full of hurt, misunderstanding and frustration.

This week I have managed to organise to have two outings with friends and that is a difficult issue for me.  I am anxious prior to meetings at times and then I am anxious also in initiating contacts too.  As an empath I often fear being overwhelmed.  Developing a sense of trust in new relationships where I am no longer as invalidated as I have been in the past is taking time, but it is happening.

Its important to know what our attachment style or difficulties are in life, especially if we have known past abuse, abandonment or trauma.  This lessens the self blame we can feel for ‘not being like everyone else’.   If we can explore our past as well as the things in childhood or friendships that hurt us or overly trigger our anxiety and core wound we are better placed to find boundaries to deal with it.  I had to let one friendship go last year because each time I organised to meet up with this girlfriend she would be up to half an hour late.  It wasn’t just once that it happened but nearly every single time.  The last straw was when she turned up late to take me to a radiation appointment.  I chose to get myself there and she was upset when I told her I was annoyed.  What she didn’t realise was that every time she ran late without doing me the courtesy of letting me know she was forcing me to carry anxiety.  As a over scheduler who was always doing too much, her relationships got to bear the brunt of her own tendency to have poor boundaries.  I have felt better not spending time with her though I do honestly miss aspects of our friendship but caring for myself meant I had to set my boundary.

Dealing with the ongoing effects of insecure attachment is not easy.  Its not our fault that we suffer from the affects of earlier abandonment or abuse or inconsistency.  It was not until I read a book on attachment styles earlier in the year that I learned that those with anxious attachment do better if they don’t have to deal with those who have an avoidant style.  If we do we are endlessly triggered and that is not good for our stability, ongoing emotional and physical well being or mental health.  If we were not sufficiently held when young we may not be aware of what is healthy and recovering a sense of self means we need to find out what is best for us and not endlessly settle for less or second best.   ‘To gain we have to know we have value and the power to ask for what we want and need or express distress if it is necessary or will help our connections and intimacy with another to grow.

 

Some times it just doesn’t work out

Its so hard when a relationship ends.  If you didn’t choose it and the one leaving sited all kinds of reasons why it couldn’t work and they name your part in it, just remember that is just one side of the story.  Relationships ask a lot of us.  I believe the difficult ones can often be about dark or wounded places in us that may not have had a chance to see the light of day.  Some relationships are ones in which we attract someone who carries some of our shadow, that hidden dark side of ourselves that we may have learned to be ashamed of or have a difficult time living.  I have been in several relationships where I carried the wounded feminine or shadow of the guy I was dating.  Of course when it ended they ended up blaming me, even though I did my best.  There were parts of themselves they did not want to face and like it or not people go into relationships with all kinds of agendas that can be hidden underneath the so call desire for love.  Just because you contributed some issues that were problematic doesn’t mean the entire relationship ending was all your fault or that it was all the other person’s fault.

When we have a relationship with a narcissist, someone who doesn’t want to own vulnerability or face parts of themselves its likely at the ending we will be blamed in some way.  We may even side with the person blaming us at the end and end up feeling entirely worthless.

I am not meaning here to imply that I or you did not contribute faults or flaws in relationship, but in a healthy relationship where both partners want to do the work of being emotionally available and open to each other it should be possible to work things through.   Being able to say you are sorry when you made a mistake, not coming over all bullet proof and defensive when wounds or early injuries are triggered, these are some of the things that can challenge and be challenging but that you work through and try to work with in a healthy relationships.  There needs to be a willingness from both sides to see the other person’s side and things from their point of view.

Then there times that we meed the right person at the wrong time or the relationship in which we find out that sadly, in the end we wanted different things.  Or then there is the relationship where someone for some reason falls out of love, projections are withdraw and placed onto someone else.

When this happens naturally we grieve.  If we have a lot of earlier losses they may be triggered and we may need help with our grief work.  Relationships fail for all kinds of reasons but just remember it isn’t always your fault, even when there are lessons to learn.  Maturity helps us to let go with grace and just say, sorry this time it just didn’t work out and I let you go with love.  If you are being blamed, attacked or shamed or dumped with all the responsibility, just remember that may say more about the other person’s lack of maturity and self awareness.

 

On Intimacy : our most important work

Until we can be truly intimate with the depths of ourselves I do not believe true intimacy with others is really a possibility.  Instead our drive towards togetherness or connection is always fraught with lack and most especially with the hunger for love, approval or acceptance that was not available to us in childhood from those others who were not capable of true emotional intimacy themselves.  As a result of this emotional dissociation and disconnection,  we become people who hunger and fear, seeking always that source of love and connection outside of ourselves that will make up for what was missed and exists now as a deep emptiness inside.  All our most important work lies in understanding the depth of that emptiness or wound so that we can answer with love and with coming into relationship with our emotional reality which has so much to teach us about inner intimacy and connection. Only when we develop this capacity within can we extend it outward.

Until we can know what our wounds were and feel and grieve them, until we can recognise our fear, shame and struggle as burdens from a difficult past and show love for ourselves and others in the midst of them we are not capable of a truly deep intimacy and love.

I have heard the term intimacy broken down to read as follows : Into me I see.  We need this depth of clear seeing to get in touch with our wounds and our longings and to find ways in which we can reach out to speak about and share them with others, not in a way that demands connection and love but in a way that removes the blocks that we carry as well as the defences against such love.  In opening up our hearts and minds with each other in this way we find connection, but also hopefully the support to reach further down and heal within through love what was hurt, exiled, damaged, lost or hungering before.

I am so grateful that in my own therapy I found a loving source of connection with a person who in having intimacy with herself and all human traits has been able to receive me and help me with mine.  She has  stood strongly by while I have struggled with a strong inner critic who is really full of fear and shame burdens passed down to me in my family.

However there are still times when I find myself alone and besieged by negativity and these are the times I have had to reach even deeper for a truly loving relationship with myself.  The critic often beats me up for all I haven’t achieved in the world but today I read these words and they made me realise that for the past 10 years I have been engaged with the deepest emotional recovery and discovery work on myself, that of learning to love and care for me.  I don’t see such work as selfish but as essential, for when I don’t care for and love myself I haven’t anything to give others and what I give is followed by resentment or sense of being emptied out or depleted.

So for all of you out there who may also struggle or beat yourself up with inner voices of ‘not good enoughness’ or other critical thoughts because you struggle with what society has labelled a mental illness when you are valiantly working so very hard to heal and find love within, I hope these words bring you some comfort and open up a light of truth which reminds you that learning to love yourself and extend that love outwards towards others are some of the most important things we can do to bring light to ourselves and the planet.  And that its okay also to struggle with the darkness because we all have it somewhere.

I sometimes worry that I’m not doing something more important with my life.  Caught up in day to day trivialities, it doesn’t seem I accomplish much.  Yet I forget that through all my daily routine, I am engaged in recovery.

As I grow in love, I worry less about doing something important.  Instead I stretch my abilities as far as they can take me.  My action now is a spontaneous expression of a loving heart.  I have done more in the past years as the result of undertaking emotional recovery than in the previous years without it.  To me there is nothing more important I can do with my life than becoming more loving.

Hope for Today

March 5

Push, push, push

Masterchef Australia is currently on tele here in Oz and the refrain push, push, push is heard nearly every night but its a reminder to me that sometimes I just need to rest, rest, rest because I can push and push and push to have to get things done and sometimes its coming out of anxiety or critical energy.

Earlier I wrote a post that touched on positive self will, I guess this is action which is line with Self that tries work in a balanced way to both project us into the world, but at the same time tell us when to rest, go easy, or take it slow. In childhood I never got to experience relaxed happy times with my parents.  It was a very duty bound home full of responsibilities and in some ways this can be good but not when it interferes with my ability to relax, let go and have some fun!

After getting into a rage last week about being stuffed around by the dentist and that arking up all my head trauma, I then got reminded of how it felt to be around family energy.  Just this morning my brother called from America.  He is go, go in the garden nearly put his back out by digging in the front yard.  “Just be sure to take care of yourself”, I said.  Then when I had to share about my dental trauma there was absolutely zilch emotional reaction or connection just a dull heavy emptiness and as so often happens after I got of the phone to him I found myself in tears.  My family are JUST SO SHUT DOWN.

Later my sister called to say that in training this morning her personal trainers dog jumped on her and soiled her nice clean leggings,  I just wanted to say ‘get lost’ she said.  I considered this with a calm irony.  I just said “Wow I can almost sense Mum’s flared nostrils from here!”    I remember how my dead sister would never let my mother remove old flowers from her room and how she loved the story where Mum visited a family friend’s farm and got upset due to ending up with chicken shit on her shoe…this delighted my sister.

I have empathy for my Mum though, to be left that alone when you are young and then to feel the only way you can find value or worth is by taking control, keeping everything perfect and looking good is very sad on some level when it costs a heavy price in being able to just let loose, laugh at chaos and have some fun.  I get anxious just thinking about the chicken shit, to be honest but I think that is a conditioned reaction.

I allow my own dog to jump up when he wants too.  People at the dog park don’t mind, I know some would consider it not a good sign, a sign of ‘bad manners’ or inadequate training. I see it as a sign of how affectionate he is and how much he loves people, and having him has re-connected me with that part of myself which so long ago went into hiding in a home where we were conditioned to think more about how we looked on the outside, than about how we felt on the inside and must keep genuine needs and interest locked behind a wall of fear or shyness.

Today, once again I am not going to push, push, push.  I just had a moment where I realised I was pushing and then felt really, really sad and an inner voice just said to me “how bad could it be if you just relaxed for a while?”  So for the first time in over 2 years I sitting in my faded floral chair in my small dining room and writing this.   It feels GREAT!

I know I can overcome my childhood conditioning.  Day by day I am learning more about it.  A constant theme in therapy is about how the inner critic pushes and savages me and I am learning to let go.  I had a positive dream last night in which I was being expected to make a meal at an event where there was already a lot of food, I decided in the end not to make anything even though I felt guilty.  I see that as a good sign.  The other positive dream image was that I had met a lovely man and he got undressed to get into bed, I was about take off my jeans and then I felt I wasn’t ready.  I got into bed next to him and said.  “I’d like to take my time to get to know you before we sleep together.”  He was fine with it.  I am nearly crying as I write that because sadly due to low self esteem and lots of emotional intimacy hunger in my teenage and younger and even older adult life I have jumped into bed with partners far too soon, and in the last relationship warning signs were there at the start that he had narcissistic issues and I overrode my own instincts when he asked me to have sex as I was so lonely.  This dream seems to auger really well for boundary issues.  Maybe my ‘no’  and self esteem muscles will get stronger in time.  Maybe I no longer have that same hunger due to my inner work and can now be a lover to myself, first, maybe I am learning to practice self care.  The dream sure seems to be saying just that.  Thank you God.

Accepting vulnerability : freeing strength

I am thinking a lot about vulnerability today.  I just watched a video on Avoidant Personality Disorder which spoke of the connection between childhood emotional neglect and avoidance.

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/47895396/posts/1460625306

The subject of vulnerability and fear came up in therapy yesterday.  The chance meeting with the boy next door from my childhood on Saturday sparked memories of little things I did as a kid that showed me how scared I was and how I must have been shamed for things in childhood.  I know that as a youngster I developed this coping strategy –  I learned to hide my vulnerability, shame or fear from others and that indicates to me that on one level I was terrified.  I see how I have carried this fear on and how it has limited my life in so many ways.

I was lucky enough not to have a contraption connected to the mattress to give me an electric shock when I was wetting the bed, like my neighbour did.  But I still think I must have felt so alone and vulnerable in childhood and that it was not safe enough to turn to others for protection and care.   In both my mother and father’s childhood they had no one much to turn to either, so its a carried pattern.

I think of all the hiding I did later in life.  The sixth and most painful termination of pregnancy which happened late in my addiction was one that I went through all alone and hid from my flatmate at the time.  When it happened we were both studying Naturopathy and we had the beginnings of a very close relationship, but I feared so much opening up to her about what had happened that I lied and in the end she moved out of the place I owned and the darkest and most painfully alone year of my active addiction began.

When I think about it now I am so grateful that I finally found my sobriety one year later, but by that stage I was in so much pain over all that had happened that on one level I was trying to obliterate awareness of with my drinking that it would take me years to really come to terms with it.  And it has taken me a lot of work over the past 18 months to stop seeing myself as ‘the bad one’ when really I just had developed very dysfunctional behaviours and coping strategies in my life due to emotional neglect.

I get pretty angry when addicts or alcoholics get demonised by others.  I think the judgement often comes from ignorance.  I am a huge fan of Canadian doctor Gabor Mate who comes out in defence of addicts and tries to draw attention to the early trauma so many addicts suffer which leads them to become addicts in the first place.  If you are damaged in early life and your ability to trust and depend is broken where are you going to turn and what are you going to do with the pain if no one around you is mirroring the truth of the situation for you?   The self condemnation or lack of compassion and empathy is something we can suffer for long years even into sobriety most often turning deep inside, leading many to suicide.

I am so grateful that lately my self talk has been becoming that much more loving and supportive.  I am so happy that I am able now to recognise and champion the vulnerable self in me that lay hidden under so many of my dysfunctional coping behaviours.  I was sharing with Katina yesterday my growing realisation of how I use avoidance out of fear.  Once I can admit to myself the fear or vulnerability then I can step in with the loving supportive adult presence to talk to that little one in me who is so scared and help her to take more positive, healthy, nurturing steps in my life.

Sadly as I grew up I absorbed a self shaming voice that was taken in from my parents and the nuns at my school.  I never learned about self compassion.  I really feel so strongly that self compassion is something we should teach children from a very young age.  At that early stage we need help to deal with our feelings, vulnerabilities and fears.  We do not need to be shamed for self assertion or sticking up for ourselves either.  We should not be taught to fear our vulnerability but to embrace it and learn ways to encourage ourselves from within in the midst of it.  In the absence of this we look to others to do it for us and if we are unhealed or wounded in this area we often attract those who project the shadow of their own vulnerable self onto us and then reject or shame us for it.

Part of our healing in therapy and most particularly if we come out of a narcissistically wounded family involves recognising we are not to blame but that in adult hood we do have a responsibility to change patterns and often we can only do this with good help if our wounds are serious.

Yesterday Katina said to me kindly “you did the best you could at the time”. Lying in bed this morning and thinking about that I thought what a relaxing and accepting thing that is to say in many situations.  People who hurt us do the best they can.  It may be the very worst for us and only we can break away from that kind of hurt and we must not continue to lie to ourselves about the damage such ignorance caused, well meaning as they may claim it was.  Come to think of it just re-editing this now my mother often uses excuses when I try to bring up certain painful things with her, she cannot bear to admit her own vulnerability at times.

At the same time as accepting our vulnerability we need to keep reaching for the best we can at the time and accept when our worst is all we could have done at that point with all we knew at the time.  This to me is showing mercy, it relaxes our muscles and it lets ourselves off the hook so that we can search for healthier kinder and more positive ways to self nurture and grow beyond old formerly unrecognised vulnerabilities and fears.  It may be the most valuable tool we have in our arsenal for dealing with depression which often is created by the unloving things we tell ourselves over and over about our selves or wounded and wounding others.

The value of a good friend

True friendship

I have had so many, many years of isolation.  Days when I did not speak to a single soul. Days where I was in such deep grief and had no one to share that grief with, not always because they were not there, but often because it was too painful and scary to reach out, often too because I was scared of meeting with invalidation..  I am so grateful now that I at least have a very good friend or two that I can turn to when what is going on inside my mind at times gets difficult to deal with.  And I am grateful for the days when I can reach out without putting too many barriers up in my mind.  I am seeing more clearly lately how many defences and fears I have had around connecting as an emotionally sensitive person who in the past was shamed or invalidated.

That is why I have decided to post a post today about the value of a good friendship, for without out it as much as we can love and value and comfort ourselves, life is just not as worth living or as full of light and joy.

A large part of recovery rests in learning to be a good friend and parent to ourselves, part of our recovery also involves being able to recognise and draw good friends into our lives.  During my breast cancer surgery and radiotherapy I learned the value of emotional support,  I learned how hard it is to be let down by a friend. In my blogging life I value and appreciate the supportive friendships that have come to me and made the tough days all that more bearable.

This much I do know : being happy and having peace of mind rests so much on being a good friend to ourselves but we also need each other.  When we find a true friend we should value them more than precious gold for its in sharing our strength, pain, joy, fear, vulnerability and love that we come to know what is best about being human and what makes life most worth living.