Today in session, I was telling my therapist that I feel like I’m at some sort of therapeutic plateau. I have come so far in terms of stability. I am in a good place – my life is overall quite wonderful. Of course there’s a lot I still struggle with, but that is entirely internal at this point. I have eliminated all sources of truly toxic or harmful external stresses. There is no one left in my life who can, or would, hurt me.
So, naturally, I feel a compulsion to continue to hurt myself.
During last night’s session, I nearly had a flashback. I think the only thing that stopped it was that I felt it coming on and mentioned that fact to my therapist. She told me that she knew it would annoy me, but that she was going to do what she needed to do in order to keep me “in the room” with her. For us, that means she asks a lot of grounding questions and makes a lot of grounding statements.
Why is this annoying? Because it feels like an abandonment. Not necessarily from me, but from the parts that are stuck in trauma time. I want to pull away from the memories and sensations, but unfortunately that means that I leave those traumatized parts stranded in their present-day torture.
Which sucks. But I just can’t do it. I can’t go there.
When I was in the intensive trauma treatment program last Fall, they emphatically reinforced the idea that trauma work does NOT need to include graphic or even sanitized retelling of traumas. I believe that’s true, and so does my therapist.
But what we’re trying to figure out is how to not abandon those traumatized parts. My therapist says she neither wants me to be completely in, nor completely out, of the memories. She wondered aloud if there was a way for me to get closer to the parts and to the memories while keeping (at least) one foot planted firmly in present day.
Maybe. But do I want to do that? I just don’t know.
If I think about all of the creative mechanisms my mind and body enacted in order to survive, I imagine it was all for good reason. My personality would not have kept itself divided in separate boxes if it wasn’t dangerous for that information to be filed together.
So perhaps we should keep it that way?
Even when I have short bursts of access to an authentic acknowledgement of my reality, I immediately push it away and replace it with self-hatred. My self-hatred serves as a way to sort of contain the wild and frightening emotions that spring up around my trauma. So we talked today about this idea of containers within containers.
The eating disorder contains my self hatred. My self hatred contains the emotions surrounding my trauma. And ultimately what I fear the most is that if I truly had access to what are completely incompatible realities about my past, I would be annihilated.
My therapist pointed out that fear of annihilation is very likely what caused the dissociation to begin with. That’s what happens when small children are living in incongruent and terrifying realities.
But I just wonder if this is as far as I will go? Can I be any “healthier”? Or is this a plateau? Maybe this is as much parts work as I can do without destabilizing myself and starting to trend in the downward direction.
She acknowledged my feelings of being “stuck” but said she’s convinced that even if it is a plateau, she believes it is simply a rest break before we carry on with the work. She said it’s like the stereotypical story of when a kitten gets stuck in a tree…They don’t just hop on down safely simply because the firemen are there to help them. They don’t know the firemen are safe yet. They have to be coaxed down, sometimes taking breaks on a sturdy branch before building up the energy and confidence to take the next leap of faith. She wants me to be able to trust her and trust our process enough to take that leap.
I said, “I’m sure in your kitten-in-tree analogy, the kitty makes it safely to the ground and all is well. In my analogy, the kitty takes the leap and crashes to the ground, breaking it’s spine.”
She frowned and just looked at me for a moment. Then she made a little basket with her hands and said, “Oh no…we’re gonna catch that kitten. That kitty is safe here.”
I hope so.