A Message in Two Bottles

It was a long, lazy summer and during it I made the decision to cancel all counselling. It’s a bit shocking, to see it written down in black and white, but after two years of endless varieties of counselling with women, men, on the phone, in person, talking about it and sitting in silence I have finally admitted it: I am counselled out. I have counselling fatigue. I need counselling to help me unravel all the counselling theories I have amassed.

That counselling support kept me going in the first few months after Romy died; I doubt I would have managed without it. It was a crutch, something to look forward to, a weekly outing from my own mind. In that sense, it worked. In other ways, it didn’t. The advice was so conflicting at times. Talk about it. Don’t talk about it. Use mindfulness apps. Use breathing. Use this or that phrase or technique. In every interaction I found the voice to ask my counsellor, ‘Have you lost a child?’ None of them had. And therein lay my issue. I don’t for one moment subscribe to the belief that you cannot help or advise anyone on any issue unless you’ve experienced it yourself, but for some reason, for me, I needed to hear that, otherwise there didn’t seem to be any point in talking about it.

The first couple of weeks of the summer holiday following our emotional return to Spain were difficult and I struggled. Having spent weeks attempting to set up an assessment appointment for yet another round of trauma counselling, there was a comedy of errors during which they issued me with a new date and my PTSD induced memory loss meant that I totally forgot said date. I also forgot an important call with my trusty phone bereavement counsellor, Sue – the last counsellor standing and someone whose kind, honest advice and support I have come to truly value. My previous trauma counsellor had contacted me to congratulate me on the birth of my son in October last year, then texted at Christmas, breezily explaining that her supervisor had insisted that I reassign myself to a local counsellor where I live as I was now ‘out of area’. I kid you not. I was dumped by my trauma counsellor, by text, weeks after giving birth to a baby, a year after my other baby died. You honestly couldn’t make it up.

Just when I was starting to feel the familiar slide into despair two very dear friends altered my outlook in a very significant and unexpected way and helped me to make the choice to start helping myself.

Days before Romy’s anniversary I received in the post a little bottle of a Findhorn essence called ‘Heart Support’. Mysteriously, it had no note or indication as to who it was from. I have written before about how I turned my back on many of the complementary therapies I believed in before Romy died and if I’m honest I looked at that little glass bottle with some scepticism, but I replaced that with gratitude that some lovely person had taken the time to think of me and to send it, so I started using it every day. And I started to feel better. I don’t know, or care, whether this was down to the ingredients of that mysterious potion or not; all I know is that while I was battling back and forth with new appointments and assessments that kept dropping out on me, that bottle stayed put on my desk and started to look like reliable support. I now know who sent it; someone very dear to me who I have called a friend since I was four years old. She has been a huge support to me over the past two years in innumerable other ways too, but I thank her for having the forethought to send me this essence as to me, now, it’s symbolic of a shift I experienced this summer.

The second gift was actually given to me a year ago when another close friend told me that she had bought me a voucher for an Aura Soma session. She sensitively told me that she would keep the voucher safe for me and that I should ask her for it whenever I was ready. Predictably, I forgot about it.

A couple of months ago this friend gently reminded me about the session and asked whether now was the right time. To the uninitiated, Aura Soma is a type of intuitive therapy undertaken by selecting four from 111 glass bottles filled with two tone liquids. Even if this isn’t your bag, the bottles themselves are absolutely stunning and it’s hard to resist the urge to buy all one hundred and eleven of them and display them in a light cabinet on your wall, purely for your own viewing pleasure.

I can only describe my meeting with the lovely Claire Fearon as life changing. Not in an over dramatic way but in a very subtle, ‘she didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know’, validatory kind of way. I should add here that I share Claire’s details and insights with her permission in the hope that it might inspire or help others. Claire also happens to be a talented artist and being in her home is a beautiful experience as colour is obviously very meaningful to her and the energy she creates with her use of it is very affecting.

I’m not going to go through details of the session here but if you’re intrigued, I’d highly recommend looking at Claire’s website for more details: http://www.aurasoma-works.com Claire is warm, funny and engaging and something about her made me want to talk; not just about Romy but about myself, my identity as a mother now that I can add the moniker ‘bereaved’ in front of the title, and about how I truly feel. Which, for many of the past 798 days, has been: depressed, lost, drowning, angry, confused.

Following an hour gazing at those little bottles with Claire I began to get a different perspective. I began to look at things I had felt about myself as a mother going back to when my first son was born almost eight years ago. I started to ‘see’ myself properly for the first time since Romy’s death. I also began to understand that my grief does not lie purely in my mind and emotions; it’s also a very physical thing, held in the body. I started to wonder what I could do to help my body to release. I chose one of my four bottles to take home and placed it on my desk next to the Findhorn Essence.

As a result of those two little bottles I made some significant changes this summer.

I apologise to those whom this may offend but after more than a decade of vegetarianism, I have returned to eating meat. After three vegetarian pregnancies, during my fourth I craved roast chicken incessantly. I came to the conclusion that if my body is telling me it needs something this badly maybe I should listen to it. I tentatively began eating chicken and a little fish and I actually feel an improvement in my mood. Of course, this is a very personal decision and I would never seek to advise anyone on their ethical or dietary choices but this was an important exercise in learning to trust my instinct again. I shut down that part of myself after Romy died, believing that I could never believe in it again after ‘letting her down’ so badly.

After almost eight years away, I have also returned to dancing flamenco. This is something that was previously a huge part of my life. I danced for nine years until six months pregnant with our eldest son; I have always jokingly attributed his outstanding ear for rhythm to this choice. Flamenco is an intense, brooding art form and I was hopeful that it would offer me an appropriate creative outlet for my grief. The irony was not lost on me when I turned up to class and the teacher announced that the choreography we would be learning was an Alegrias – the most upbeat and light of all the flamenco paleos. 

I’m aware that it sounds faintly ridiculous to attribute these lifestyle choices to two small bottles but I can honestly attest to the fact that between them they provided me with a catalyst for change. It’s easy to accept that I spent the first year after Romy’s loss in a state of shock but I now see that the second year propelled me into grieving full on as I prepared to welcome a new baby while still sifting through the complex layers of emotion belonging to the loss of my daughter.

Over the summer we visited some beautiful gardens and right in the middle of them stood a majestic cedar tree. It struck me immediately and I was powerfully drawn to it. From ages past, the cedar is revered for its spiritual associations, cleansing and healing properties. I took this symbolism as some kind of sign and reflected on how akin it is to the act of dancing flamenco. The feet and ‘trunk’ must be rooted, grounded and solid in order for your footwork, or zapateado, to be clear. The upper body must reach upwards, the arms, fingers and hands tracing intricate patterns in the air.

The message I have taken from these two bottles is hope. I wish I could bottle hope for all the other bereaved parents out there. However, even though it has taken me two years to begin to wake up, I do feel that I have some hope to offer. I feel my feet grounding themselves and steadying me. At the same time, I feel myself reaching upwards and outwards like branches and shoots, feeling my way gradually but also confidently; finding my way to those who I can share with, empathise with and perhaps encourage in some way.

Talking therapies, counselling and their like have had their place in my experience but now is the time for change. While it feels like a reckless move to dispense with the counselling and exit The System, like throwing away a pair of crutches, in some ways it also feels incredibly liberating. For the first time in the two years since my daughter died I am finding a way back to myself, and I feel recognition of that former self; battered and bruised, but still sparking with intention to create a new self and move forwards, however hard that may be.

I also feel, and see, hope.