I woke up early in the morning—middle of the night, probably. I didn’t get up. I just cuddled in bed. Cuddling in bed seems to help. The night before, when I also woke up in the middle of the night, the feelings got more distant and harder to access as soon as I got up. I cried a lot. I tried to just observe what was happening in my body and in my mind. I tried to notice the cycle. I feel warmth or the need for warmth. I want to shut it down in some way and usually it is with shame, but I can actually feel it in my body, like I just hit an “off” switch. I am turning off that feeling of warmth or at least turning off my awareness of warmth. And then I feel desperate and it cycles back up into franticness which usually looks like suicidal ideation.

I try to instead let myself have warmth and connection. I think about C’s skin against my face the last time I hugged her. I think about holding her in my arms when she was crying.

A piece of this, it seems to me, is how scared I was growing up about my own mom. I think it is what keeps me locked into a frozen position with C, where she is pushing me away, and I can’t leave her. I don’t know if I ought to distance myself so she can regulate or if that leads to cycling back up into feelings of abandonment, but I know I feel frozen in that place of not knowing in a powerful way that is more than just the pragmatics of how to respond to her.

And I think it’s because of my own mom. She was terrifying and I retreated into not feeling anything for her a lot of the time, but she was very deeply distressed. She went through the same cycle in a very loud way that is going on silently in my own head, and she acted on those thoughts of suicide. She self-harmed. She spent a lot of time in bed depressed. And I worried about her. I was really, really worried, and as much as she terrified me, I also wanted to be close to her so that I knew she was okay. Just as I want to be close to C so that I know that C is okay.

It also makes me aware of how powerfully I feel that I am hurting other people when I am close to them. I am afraid of being hurt, and I am also afraid of hurting them. I feel literally toxic, as though being close to someone will poison them, and I think it’s because of that cycle. It’s all getting reactivated because of C, because she is in pain due to her trauma around attachment, and her trauma experiences hurt her whenever she is close. I am watching that, and it’s very much like watching my mom. If you don’t know what is going on or what the real issue is, it very much looks like you are hurting this person. You are close to them, and it seems to be hurting them, and as a child growing up, it must have felt that my whole existence was some kind of emotional scalpel, as though just being around me and having a relationship with me caused other people pain, because the attachment to me caused my mother pain. It caused her so much pain she ended up enraged and wanting to push me away violently.

As a child, I would never have known this was not because of me. I would not have known her reactions to me were not particular to me, but occurred in every close relationship she had, or that every experience of warmth and closeness and positive feelings for other people would push her towards frantic efforts to defend herself from the terror she felt inside. I would have felt both that my very existence caused other people pain and that people hurt me because I could not be loved or wanted. I would have felt both the pain my mother was in was because of me and the violence she resorted to was because of me, and I would have generalized that to every human relationship. I hurt people and I make them want to hurt me.

Pain in relationships would have seemed inevitable. Even with other relationships that weren’t like that, the imprint of my relationship with my mother would have been profound and indelible.