Separation anxiety

From time to time, it becomes clear that a developmental hurdle didn’t get cleared. I dissociated the distress, but I didn’t master it.

In grieving, I noticed the little ones hadn’t grasped the fact that there are limits in life. There are things human beings can’t do. Not just things they won’t do, but things they can’t do. Like bring the dead to life again. There was a lot of fist-pounding over this and it took a while, but I think they get it now.

I think they (I) didn’t clear separation anxiety either. I think we never got to a point where a mental image of a caregiver was comforting enough that we could stop having meltdowns over her absence. We didn’t get there, I think, because the separations were so traumatic and they needed so much more soothing than a normal separation.

My natural mother was not reliably soothing and it does seem to me now that being placed in care severed that attachment permanently. I was taken away from my foster parents with no warning and no ongoing connection afterwards. And Natalya I kept being forced to leave without any assurance as to when I would see her again or any space to acknowledge her as an important figure during her absence.

So separation is an important part of the trauma. It’s not a violent trauma. It’s an internal trauma—it’s simply an intense feeling I couldn’t manage independently and had no help with.

It’s a big part of my life now. The twins miss Nata. They miss her quite frequently. A mental image isn’t strong enough yet to be enough. It helps slightly—not nearly enough to be worth doing if I have other options.

If I am at home, I go hug a rolled-up blanket. This is reminiscent of the way Nata held me when I was small and tired or sick or in pain—with my head on her shoulder—and it is totally magic. Like the brakes have suddenly been engaged. Everything inside relaxes. But I have to do it 20 times a day, and it’s hard to stay patient. It’s hard to remember I needed this. I needed someone to be there and no one was. I needed it more because I was deeply traumatized and there was so much more anguish to soothe. I needed the grownups to help me feel safe, and they didn’t. So I have to do it now, and it doesn’t happen in a day or two or even a few weeks. It can take quite a long time.

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6 thoughts on “Separation anxiety

  1. Ellen March 30, 2015 / 7:38 am

    I really like how you find ways to comfort the small traumatized parts of you. For me, I tend to get angry that so much is needed. Providing that care is so much better and kinder.

    • Ashana M March 30, 2015 / 8:06 am

      Thank you. It’s hard. I get frustrated sometimes too. I think it helps that I worked in a preschool in college and I work at an elementary school now, so I see how much little ones need. And traumatized little ones need even more. There is a certain amount of negotiation involved. As in, I would like to finish this. Can you wait? Or do you need to go hug the blankie now? And also a certain amount of appealing for help. After a certain age, they do really take pride in being able to help out. They aren’t really there yet, but they do like to be a part of things. In the workweek, they understand they need to try to be quiet so I can do my job. In between classes is when I get all the sadness and verge-of-a-meltdown stuff.

  2. Tournesol (Clr) March 30, 2015 / 10:31 am

    What a poignant post!! “like the brakes have finally been engaged”…this image explains so well the power of self-soothing. Thank you for sharing. Your journey helps me understand better as I work with youths…blessings x

    • Ashana M March 30, 2015 / 12:00 pm

      Thank you. I’m glad it helps.

  3. Cat's Meow March 31, 2015 / 12:40 am

    It makes perfect sense that you wouldn’t have been able to work through separation anxiety. 😦 I’m glad that you can do it for yourself now, but ugh, huh? Living through feeling it and soothing these sorts of feelings over and over and over is just exhausting.

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