Today’s session went much better. Not because I’m feeling better, but because the therapist and I were able to connect better. I had several things I wanted to try to bring into the session and I was (somehow) able to get to almost all of them.
The first thing was that I wanted to touch on how awful I’d been feeling. I get the impression that she thinks this is a state I’m familiar with. It’s not. Yes, as a collective self, we have spent most of our life in some form of crisis. But as me, Andi, I have not really been in crisis much at all. Most of the challenging experiences I’ve had have stemmed from crises happening internally that I did not even have much access to. It has only been recently that I’ve been able to understand what was happening at all. And then most recently, things have shifted (yet again) so that now I DO feel the emotions that come with having the kind of traumatic history we have.
I explained to her that my memories have always either just appeared in my brain or have been “shown” to me in a way similar to watching a television program. I am able to know what is happening because I can see it or because I am given factual information. But I don’t feel the memory anymore than I would watching a TV screen.
Until lately, when my memories began revealing themselves in a new, terrifying way. Now, rather than just watching as a third party observer, I experience the memories as though they happened to me. A true flashback.
She said, “So that is probably retraumatizing to you.”
Yes. But no. It IS retraumatizing…except, I wasn’t (consciously) around for the original trauma. So in a me-as-Andi way, it is simply traumatizing. It is an original trauma being revealed to me, as happening to me, for the first time ever. And that fucking sucks.
Once I explained this to her a little further, I think she understood more of why this is so extraordinarily difficult for me. She was imagining a person who has spent their whole life battling trauma and crisis. I am not that person. I am part of that entire person. But I have not personally done any of those things. This is all rather new to me.
I told her that having access to the sensations and emotions of experiencing this shit is making me completely hate myself. She said that made a lot of sense since she imagines that being around my parents (and particularly my mother), it would never have been safe for me to be angry at the people who were hurting me.
Makes sense, but if all these memories were dissociated from me, why do I need them now??
She asked me to explain my understanding of why my memories were split from me. I said it was probably because I couldn’t handle it at the time. She agreed and talked more about how fragile our egos are as children.
“If a safe place did not exist in your reality and you had no one to blame or be angry at for all of these terrible things that happened to you, doesn’t it make sense that you would hide them away from yourself? And what you’re feeling now, I believe, is yourself as a little girl. That child who had nowhere to discharge that rage except onto herself, in the form of intense self-loathing.”
“Yes. I see what you’re saying. It all makes sense. But, so, why do I need the memories now?! Or at all, really?? Why do I have to be this person in crisis? It makes no sense!”
She asked me if my experience of crisis felt internal or external. I told her that it was internal and that, actually, my dissonance around that very issue was also fueling my self-loathing. She asked me to talk more about what I meant.
“Well, so, on the inside I feel like I’m dying. Everything feels awful. But I have no reason for it. My life is great. What reason do I even have to be in ‘crisis’?!”
“Do you need me to answer that question? Because I will.”
“No. It’s rhetorical. And I’m serious. I feel like I’m just being whiny or attention-seeking.”
“I don’t think that’s true at all. I think you have plenty of reason to be struggling right now. And even if someone is ‘attention-seeking’, it’s important to identify WHY they are needing attention.”
I agreed with her. In fact, I always used to say that in regards to my own clients back when I worked in mental health. But that still didn’t answer my question as to why these memories had to come up now, like this.
She said that she believes it’s an indicator of strength. Dissociative systems will always do what is necessary to protect themselves. For me (and many others), that means splitting awful experiences off, away from the most commonly presenting part (or “host”)…
“That was a brilliant coping mechanism for a child or teenager. But you’re an adult now. And you’re right, externally, you DO have a good life. So maybe you’re strong enough – and safe enough – now to finally begin to integrate your memories.”
Hmm. Perhaps. But it still sucks.
Then I took some time to read two poems to her. Julia wrote them, but I can finally relate to them in a way I never could before. We briefly discussed them before time started to run out.
But I needed to address the feelings of self-harm. I asked her why she keeps offering me abstract concepts as a solution. It’s not helpful. How can I be optimistic when I can’t even be realistic? Her answer was that I need to just hang on and trust the process. I asked her what makes her believe that will work.
“All of my training helps me believe it will work. It will take time, but you can do this.”
Fair enough. But I still don’t get it. And it still seems insurmountable.
Strangely, however, I trust her on this. She speaks about trauma in a way no other clinician has talked about with me. She seems to really understand the pervasive way it infects every thread of my life and she is beginning to understand how my specific trauma response impacts the way I go through life.
Something about that gives me hope (which in turn petrifies me).
Then I glanced at the clock. “Speaking of time….”
“Yes. We’re almost out of time for today.”
“Is that why you mentioned time? Or is there something else you wanted to say”
Damnit, is she a mind-reader?!
“Uh, yeah. I just feel…Well, no. I don’t know what I feel. Let me try a different route. I think…time. Space. Yeah – I think maybe we should talk about that again.”
“Do you mean adding more space in here?”
“Yes. Please tell me you noticed how hard it was for me to get that out of my mouth. That was not even a complete sentence!”
She laughed. “True. And yet it was perfectly clear. And it’s really great that you brought it up. I was thinking the same thing.”
We spent a minute discussing the possibilities. She said we could add time to sessions and have 75 minute sessions. Or we could add a third session per week. She asked for my feedback.
“Uh. I don’t know. I always panic when you ask me stuff like this because I don’t know what to say.”
“Okay. Well you don’t have to answer. In fact, you never have to answer. If you feel like that – like you’re panicking – I’d like you to share that with me in the moment so we can talk about it as we are right now. Would you like my thoughts on this?”
“Well I am thinking that increasing the frequency of sessions might be most helpful for you right now because you seem to have the hardest time when there is a gap. Does that resonate with you at all?”
“Yes, it does. I DO have a really hard time containing all of this in between sessions. The longer that time is, the harder it is.”
“Right. That’s what I thought. So why don’t we increase to three sessions per week. Do you want to add an extra session this week?”
“Okay, then let’s do that! And then we’ll do three times a week from now on.”
THREE TIMES A WEEK.