Paper Clip

Some of the work I’m doing in therapy right now is around an uncovered memory that seems ready to reveal itself.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my memories generally come in pieces that gradually begin to make more sense over time. I’ve learned that it tends to go a little better for me if I actively work to put those pieces together. It seems to help me be more prepared for when the pieces collide and I get the more complete memory. Sort of.

In an effort to get ahead of this particular memory, I’ve been doing just that: I’ve created a diagram that has a big question mark in the center. The question mark represents what is missing – in this case, I believe it is either a specific memory, an alter I’m not familiar with (either new or previously dormant), or a combination of both.

I showed this diagram to my therapist at the end of Monday’s session and she immediately said that she wanted a copy. So I scanned and printed the page from my journal and brought it with me yesterday, along with a photograph that I felt very drawn to of myself at about age 3 or 4 with my grandmother’s dog.

She asked if I wanted to talk about the diagram and I nodded my head yes. She said that was okay and that she also wanted to talk about it, but then added that she’d like us to also talk about how to create a safe space for me while we work on this type of stuff. I’d mentioned before how terrifying and painful this can be for me; I often go into extreme flashbacks, body memories, or lose time. It’s very hard to recover from such moments.

I have no idea how to even begin to feel safe. It was as if she’d asked me a question in a foreign language. I truly didn’t understand what she was talking about. Safety, specifically around trauma processing, is a foreign concept to me, particularly in the therapeutic setting.

I’d used a silver paperclip to fasten the copy of the diagram and the photo together. I pulled it off before handing them to her and then, as I went to set the paperclip down on the side table, I felt a flashback coming on. I took a breathe, but it smacked me right in the face so quickly I didn’t have enough time to react.

I just sat there, holding that damn paperclip as various sensations and emotions swept over me. I curled into myself and looked down, waiting for everything to work itself out.

*Content warning: self-harm, suicide, psychiatric hospitals*

After a few minutes of running the paperclip under my fingers and trying to connect with the memories that were coming back, I said, “You know, I very nearly killed myself with a paper clip just like this one.”

She asked me when that happened and what the circumstances were at the time.

“October 1999. I was in a hospital. I was put on room restriction for something stupid and it made me mad. I felt trapped. I was looking around my room for something to cut myself with. My tutor had given me school papers and he left a silver paperclip on them by accident.”

“What did you do with it?”

“I slit my wrist. It was half my lifetime ago, but there’s still this scar…”

I took off my watch and showed her the angry four inch vertical scar that runs along the inside of my left wrist. She frowned.

Then she asked me what I was feeling while holding that paperclip.

“I’m just thinking about how much self-hatred, anger, and willpower it would take to do that much damage to yourself with a paperclip. It’s not a very sturdy or sharp object – you’d have to work at it; you’d have to really want it. It’s not like a razor that cuts easily and neatly; you’d need to really dig at your skin with a paperclip….It’s quite violent, really.”

“Yes, towards both yourself and others. I imagine that you felt trapped…trapped in abject horror with absolutely nowhere to go.”

I paused for a moment. She was right, but I didn’t want to let that sink in, so I just kept talking:

“I remember the nurse who found me. Her name was Jen. She had a blackbelt in Karate and had really bad acne. She was kneeling over me while waiting for assistance to come and as she was tending to my arm, she said, ‘Oh, what an idiot.'”

The therapist looked down in disgust and shook her head. Then she asked me what happened after that.

“They got me appropriate medical care. Then, the next day, they discharged me.”

“They discharged you?”

“Yes.They called my parents and told them I’d ‘scratched myself’. They said this kind of behavior is disruptive to the unit and thus I was being discharged. They asked my parents to come pick me up the next day.”

Almost as if she was speaking to herself, she said, “They didn’t want to deal with you…”

“No, they didn’t. Neither did my parents. I never made it home that time. My parents took me right to my grandparents’ house. When I got there, all of my personal stuff was already there, set up all nice and neat in my mother’s former bedroom, as if I’d been living there all along.”

“And how was it to be living at your grandparents’?”

“I don’t really know. I overdosed on a bottle of Paxil less than a week later.”

“So not good, then.”

“No. Not good.”

She pointed out that I’d just described a situation in which I was very unsafe, despite being in a facility whose sole purpose was to do just that. She alluded to all of the ways I’ve been abandoned, neglected, and betrayed by people who were supposed to keep me safe and wondered if the feelings brought up by seeing the paper clip weren’t perhaps a representation of how I felt about her question around keeping the therapeutic space safe for me.

“Yeah, probably. I mean, I don’t even know what that means: ‘safe’? What is that? To me, that sounds like another name for putting parameters around my reactions to my trauma and if so, I promise you I will fail.”

“There is nothing for you to fail; this is not a test. And that’s something we can keep talking about: what ‘safe’ means and what else you need to feel safe in this space.”

I just sat there.

“And I’m wondering if the paper clip and reliving that memory is bringing up reminders of how awful things were?”

“Yes. It was so long ago, which makes it seem far away. I know I’m very different and my life is very different now, but once you’ve been in that place, you’re always aware of the possibility of going back. And that reality – that intense fear – makes it seem very close to me at all times.”

“It may get awful again. But we’re in this together and we can figure it out together.”

“What if it gets really ugly…or messy? Because it could…”

“I know.”

Do you though?”

I grabbed my bag and left without waiting for her to respond.

I knew I wouldn’t believe her answer anyway.


21 thoughts on “Paper Clip

  1. Sirena says:

    Reading this, I got the impression you were in quite a dissociative place as you recalled your time in hospital? I’m sorry no one took care of you back then in a way you deserved.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ambivalencegirl says:

    I’ve had memories come back to me like that and it is so difficult. I don’t remember any of my suicide attempts or being in the hospital. I remember my T driving me to the ER from a session (I was in my 20’s) but after we got there I don’t remember a thing. I don’t even remember why. I think it may be more difficult for you because you are remembering and this stuff probably gets blocked from our conscious for a reason. Take care 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Up until fairly recently, I also couldn’t remember any of these major things. I sometimes think I preferred it that way, but it IS nice to fill in some of those gaps. I know it was kept from me for an important, so I can only assume I am not capable of holding this stuff? Hopefully. Thank you xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. alicewithptsd says:

    Hugs. Just hugs, because I’m at a loss for words today. This all sounds really hard and scary. Finding safety, especially in dealing with trauma a feelings seems impossible right now, but I do think the therapist means it; she is in this with you and wants to help you find your own version of safety. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      I think she means it, too. Everything she does demonstrates care and responsibility towards my care. I hope that, together, we can figure out how to create a safer space for me to unload some of the really awful things that are terrorizing me. Thank you x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. La Quemada says:

    Oh Andi, my heart goes out to you. I read this post holding my breath, literally only letting it out at the end. Then my eyes filed with tears. I wish so much that I could have offered a truly safe and comforting place to that desperate, suffering girl. How can so many adults have betrayed you?!? How dare they?!? You are such a beautiful person: insightful and reflective, such a good writer. It’s amazing and admirable that you could grow into such a person after all you’ve been through.

    Later I’d like to ask you more about the process of uncovering memories, something that is very confusing to me. But for the moment, I just want to tell you that I am outraged and deeply saddened at the way you were treated. Sending caring hugs, Q.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thank you, Q, for sharing your experience of reading this post with me. It means a lot that someone would feel emotion on my behalf. Honestly. And thank you for the beautiful comments and support. We can definitely talk more about uncovering memories when it makes more sense to do so. Hugs back xo


  5. Rachel says:

    Christ, this one definitely elicitied a gut reaction or horror and sadness. I’m so sorry. It is completely okay for you not to believe her right now, for you to believe you aren’t safe, for you to need time to feel safe. For you to even figure out what safe could mean, when you clearly have had no context of safety from caregiver figures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Yeah. I was hesitant to write it as forthcoming as I did for this exact reason. But then I figured people would make the choice to read or not and decided my readers are all capable of making that decision, haha. So thank you for reading and for being supportive. Safety is something I long for with every cell of my being. But it always seems so elusive and, perhaps, something I am not worthy of? More to think on.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jean says:

    Oh boy, to me “safe” means I am locked up so that I can’t hurt anybody. They are safe from me. I am so evil. There is also something about a big safe with a combination lock that I was put in. So this is definitely not a word to use in the regular sense. I’ve found that okay will do instead.

    With everybody betraying you, no wonder you can’t envision safety. Maybe you and your T can find another word that will let you start building what she means, without actually using such a loaded word.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Yep. Lots of loaded connotations around that word, huh? I like the idea of finding another word because “safe”…I’m not sure I understand it the same way she does.


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