Return of the Attachment Wound

Just in time for Halloween, a real horror show. It’s the return of the attachment wound, that monster that turns rational adult women into screaming, desperate toddlers…

It’s Monday, my first day back in therapy after my vacation. And since E was on vacation before me, it’s really our first opportunity to restart the work for the first time since the end of August.

You might think I’d be excited and eager after such a long break. And in a way, I am; my mind remembers that it feels good to sit in her office and be seen and accepted. But on the other hand, I have coped with the separation by trying to tuck as much emotional “stuff” as possible into a big box and then shoving that box under the bed. Honestly, I feel kind of disconnected. Plus I’m still jet-lagged and worried about my son.

So on the drive over to E’s office, I decide my only goal for therapy today is to start to reconnect. But when I enter the old Victorian house where she works, I can feel the protective walls around my heart.

It helps that she greets me with a warm smile. She playfully extends her fingertip to touch mine, echoing the line in a poem she sent me earlier about returning after an absence. I feel welcomed. We spend most of the hour catching up–my trip, my emotional and physical state, and what’s going on with Andres. It’s kind of like laying the groundwork for moving ahead.

I leave the session still not fully connected, but hopeful. But when I return on Wednesday, it all seems to crumble.

First, she seems tired and less attentive. Okay, she’s human, that can happen. Second, we return yet again to the topic of my existential loneliness, and it turns into a conversation about activities I can go to or groups I can join. I can’t even remember now if we say anything directly about those walls around my heart that both protect me and hold me prisoner. It just feels like we are talking at completely different levels.

It doesn’t help that the venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms have started up again, and my arms, hands, legs and feet are electric.

There isn’t really anything wrong with the session, per se. But I leave feeling unseen and alone. I go home, work a little, do some chores. But the feeling grows, creeping out of its dark spaces, fingers crawling up to wrap themselves around my ankles, thin icy tendrils piercing my skin, digging in, and finding their way up into my mind.

Wait, I tell myself. Don’t get lost in this anxiety and loneliness. It was just a missed connection. E cares about me. I can reach out to her–she’s often said I can–and tell her what I’m feeling, and she’ll reassure me.

So I email her:

There is something we aren’t hitting when we talk about loneliness and needing to find my tribe. I don’t know what it is exactly, but there is a hole that hurts and isn’t getting whatever it is that it needs. I’m sorry to be so vague. I am not sure what we are missing.

It’s about 90 minutes later when I hear back from her:

Go in and look around. Think about what it would feel like if you weren’t missing the indescribable thing. If you got it and had words for it, what would that feel like? What words come close to explaining that feeling? This is good weekend homework for you.

In the meanti me, my distress is already growing anyway. And there is something about the “good weekend homework” that feels so dismissive to me. It’s only early evening Wednesday. Does that mean go away and work on this on my own and just bring it back to her next Monday? I’m convinced that’s it, and it accentuates my sense of being alone.

Maybe I’m just not good at connecting, I think. After all, I thought I was reaching out, and she didn’t feel it that way. And I’m around people who are friendly to me, but who never become close friends. It’s that damn wall around my heart again. I keep people out. Or I’m missing the skills to let them in. And after all this therapy, and as old as I am, maybe this isn’t fixable anymore.

I text her back

I think I just can’t connect deeply.

With the feeling? Or with others?

With others. I want to but… I don’t. Or I can’t.

And realistically, this probably isn’t going to change much.

Then I suppose you will have a part of you that lives with the loneliness of this loss.

Just the wrong answer. I realize, as I read it, that I didn’t want her to AGREE with me. I wanted her to reassure me, or to highlight ways in which she has seen me connect with people. Of course, it’s text after all, and my sentences are short, and she doesn’t know what I might be needing, underneath my words. But the thought of just living with “the loneliness of this loss” fills me with despair. All I write, however, is

Ugh.

A few moments later, she texts back

Right?

What does that answer mean? Is she trying to say that she knows living with the loneliness is ugh, and that’s why I have to keep trying? I feel confused.

What are you saying?

But it’s getting to be dinner time, or maybe it’s the week she runs a therapy group in the evening, so I don’t hear back. I eat my own dinner, and I read a bit, but the monster in my head is growing. In a rush of confused emotion, I write

I am trying hard but I’m still lonely. Is it hopeless? Am I hopeless?

That’s what I feel when I come to see you, feeling lonely, and then leave, not knowing how to address it. 

Recognizing that I’m tired and discouraged, that something weird may be happening with the Effexor again, I still don’t see my way out of this.

She obviously is busy, because it’s hours before I hear back from her.

I’m sorry to hear you feel lonely after our sessions. I’m glad you are talking about it. Let’s talk in person about this experience of loneliness. Sounds painful and worth exploring. Have you been cutting the Effexor again?

This is a totally reasonable response, but at the same time I note: “let’s talk about this in session.” In other words: wait. But the urgency is growing. The monster inside is transforming me into a small child, with the (lack of) patience of a small child.

I think my earlier message didn’t make sense. When I read it again now, itdoes not express what I think I was trying to say. 

I’m sorry; it’s probably frustrating to get these messages saying I feel lonely after session. All I know is that I feel highly dysregulated and alone. I can see I’m caught in some irrational thinking, but it feels so true that I also can’t pull out of it.

(I have NOT been reducing the Effexor again but ever since I refilled my prescription 5 days ago, I have all the symptoms of reducing it and have to wonder what is going on.)

I need you and don’t want to need you and feel utterly uncertain of our connection and am appalled to be feeling this AGAIN. I hate it. I hate being like this.

Sorry to hear this. Maybe the pharmacist can give you information on the source issue. Sort of would make sense something is different in the medication. Hm.

I’m right here. Our connection is strong. You have a right to get assurance. I’m glad you are caring for yourself by asking.

I can’t feel our connection. I am sad and mad and confused (that “helpless rage”). And my adult self is embarrassed by that…

I’m sorry, it’s late.

I’m here, felt or not. Can you allow, soften and soothe? You don’t have to fix this right now. We have time to talk this out. Soothe the worried parts as best you can. You are going to be fine. We are fine.

By this time, I am in bed, next to my husband who kisses me and tells me, again, how much he loves me. And I think, how can you love me, I am a raging two-year-old lunatic? But I don’t tell him that. I kiss him back and tell him, again, how lucky I am to have him. Because I am, I know I am, even though in some ways I can’t fully feel it right now.

 

 

CREDIT: Featured image by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

13 comments

  1. Maybe your tribe is this bunch of raving attachment pained lunatic two year olds on here?? 💜 I think you’ve done really well to teach out through the chaos and ache to your T. It takes a while to settle into the groove. So what if you have to send a load of texts to get stuff out. No big deal. Nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. I’m the worst kind of crazy before,(during 😬) and after breaks – I think it’s par for the course. Lol. Let’s all meet up in a virtual soft play centre and let all our little ones inside make friends. They’ll feel less lonely, I’m sure.

    Seriously, though, take care and big hug xx

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  2. i am right with you, La quemada , in grieving the attachment wound, and it makes me feel alone even as I am surrounded by people who love me and care for me and to whom i am connected — or so they reassure me! – without wavering or ambivalence. the only thing that’s given me solace is thinking about it in terms of grieving, and what’s helped there is gradually accepting that it something i’ll have to live with and learn to build my life around. this video was super helpful in helping me think about living with grief and loss, even of ephemeral things like an attachment figure, as I move on. it really hurts, though,and it messes with all of the other relationships in my life because this primary one failed me. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/stories-43227108/why-grief-is-not-something-you-have-to-get-over

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  3. The exchanges with E seem encouraging and validating but mostly on quite an adult level. You did a great job of trying to explain what you were feeling and trying to get across that what she was offering wasn’t enough or wasn’t quite right to meet the needs of the child part hungry for comforting and connection. I get what you’re saying about your adult self being embarrassed by this other part being seen by E, its something I feel a lot with both Cat and Dr L, with a sense that I should be able to *control* myself better. Maybe the answer is to not fight the needs of the raging 2 year old and to make sure you spend time in the next few sessions attending to her. Maybe not just in sessions either. Those 2 year olds suck at understanding “later” and some soft blankets and chocolate pudding sound like an awesome idea.

    With the effexor, it sounds like whatever was dispensed this time around might have a lower bioavailability than what you’ve had previously even though the dose is the same – different brand maybe? The other possibility is if you’ve started or stopped taking something else (drug or supplement or food) which interacts with it. I know when I was on citalopram I used to have big problems with grapefruit juice, it would be like taking half as much again of the drug and I’d get antidepressant withdrawal symptoms every time I switched to drinking OJ instead.

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    • You are so right, my focus doesn’t need to be on being embarrassed by the toddler or trying to talk myself back into the adult state, but simply attending to her. I don’t always know how to do it–but maybe I could start with some chocolate pudding.

      That was interesting what you said about what could be causing my Effexor withdrawal symptoms. I had thought about the different manufacturer already. It seems like the pharmacy switches manufacturers every couple of months (probably wherever they can get it cheapest). That would suck if it meant a different reaction for me every time. I thought I hadn’t changed anything else but after I read your comment, I realized that I ran out of my regular daily vitamins earlier this week and was waiting to buy some more next week when I’ll be at the place that sells the kind I usually buy. But maybe that is contributing? I do have some other multivitamins that I’ll start taking today, just to see if that helps (but again, different manufacturer, possibly different combination of vitamins, so who knows?!?)

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  4. I understand where you are coming from. I feel trauma makes it hard to connect with people for several reasons. I do think this can get better. On the other hand, I also know from my own experiences that taking on big questions when I am out of sorts is not helpful. In that state, I understand direct physical comfort. I don’t understand complex social exchanges.

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  5. Attachment stuff. It’s so hard. So, so hard. I hate that disconnected, walls up but wanting to connect while at the same at time not wanting to. It’s distressing and crazy making, and next to impossible to describe. It’s especially difficult when the grown up parts are embarrassed by the feelings of the child parts….maybe the grown up can step aside and allow the child to be seen and heard? I find myself saying to Bea “the grown up is embarrassed but the little girl feels…..” all the time.

    Everything you pointed out that you were noticing in the text messages (like the “this is good weekend homework”) is so exactly the type of stuff my teen part zeros in on, this was like reading something the teen wrote. It’s hard to feel like that, it can be really painful.

    I do think E is there, and that she cares a lot about you. She’s not gone, but that might be hard for a two year old to understand. Maybe the two year old needs reassurance from E that she is not gone and everything is okay? I hold that E is able to connect to whatever parts are needing to be seen really soon. 💕

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  6. I felt a pain in my heart at her replies to you. So I understand how it made u feel. I think DV was right about her speaking adult to adult and not picking up that it was really the child speaking.
    That might be to do with her being really busy having been away and also as humans I think they too take some time to get back into the swing of things and settle back into their roles. Hopefully you guys will reconnect next time.

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  7. What is cool is how you not only were vulnerable, reached out to connect when you first noticed what was going on, but then you continued to reach out, even when her responses were missing what you needed . You stayed with it and modified your response until you got what you needed. That is amazing, and takes a lot of hard work! Very impressed.

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