Jack the New Therapist aka the FNG will be no longer. It has become a failed collaboration. That is what my reasonable self says. My snarky self is pointing at this:
Jack has one of the worst Resting Bored Faces I’ve come across. There are three places you never want to see an RBF: 1) on a date 2) while you’re speaking publicly 3) on the face of your therapist while you’re sharing something. He doesn’t mirror or even change his facial expression very much. He is extremely low affect. He rarely smiles. It is strange. He is putting the clinical in clinical psychologist.
It’s more than that though. He won’t actually therapize. He just expects me to sit and talk ad nauseum, and I hate doing that. That is too client-centered for my taste. He rarely asks questions. When he does he says, “Do you mind if I ask a question?” Sweet fancy Moses, please ask a question!! If I mention a past traumatic event, he looks visibly jarred by it. He then says, “I’m just really angry that you experienced that. That shouldn’t have happened to you.”
I’m way beyond that now. Of course, that should not have happened to me. What I need is some kind of insight into resolving remaining emotional dissonance, and I now see that he can’t offer that. He can’t get past the nature of my past traumatic experiences. He’s hunting for something. An explanation for something. It feels as if he doesn’t believe me on some level. I present how I present, and he continually refers to studies that show that I should be a mess. So, the questions that he has managed to ask are not meant to help me. They have been probing questions.
- Do I trust that my male therapist won’t be sexually inappropriate with me if studies show that our first experience with a man–our father–becomes our template? (Yes, he actually asked me that.)
- How am I able to form solid relationships with men or women since both my parents were abusive? How has that even been a possibility for me since studies show…?
- How am I able to experience any kind of sexual intimacy with a partner after being sexually brutalized since studies show…”
Do you see a theme here? This wasn’t therapy. This was some kind of inquisition, and I don’t say that in cynical way. The Spanish Inquisition was an inquiry into whether or not a Jew who converted to Christianity was, in fact, an honest convert. This felt like an inquiry into whether or not I was “fronting”. Was I really stable? Was I really recovered or effectively recovering? After all, studies show that you can’t fully heal after trafficking, childhood sexual abuse, and longterm exposure to traumatic environments in childhood and adulthood. Studies show that you struggle, your hippocampus shrinks, and you remain fragile in some way for the rest of your life. Well, I never liked those studies. Excuse my language, but fuck’ em. I don’t want a smaller hippocampus or a lifelong struggle. He wants me to provide evidence that how I appear in his office is true in my life.
No. I don’t have to do that nor should I have to in a therapist’s office. For all his training, he should have known better. There are healthy ways to gauge the state of a client.
All that aside, I think this experience has answered my question: Do I still need intensive therapy?
I don’t think I do right now. I’ve been at this since March 2015. My favored therapist saw me through the dissolution of my marriage, the fallout, and the processing of the trauma associated with domestic violence. He saw me through the process of “getting my shit together”. He was one of the best therapists I’ve ever worked with. Perhaps it was good that he moved out-of-state. It allowed me to assess myself and see that I didn’t need the Hot Seat anymore. After everything that has happened since mid-2015, that’s a weighty realization as I head into 2018.
And this is where I must say that the unimaginable is possible. I don’t want to sound “inspiration porn-y”, but I do want to be honest. I could not have imagined my life in January 2015. I knew that I was miserable and despairing. I knew that I was getting sicker and sicker. I knew that I no longer loved my husband. I was starting to figure out that he was abusive. I knew that I was living a life that I hated. I wanted so much more for myself and my daughters, but I didn’t know how to get there. It all felt out of reach for me and them. Impossible. How do you start over in mid-life?
One step at a time taken with great anxiety, however, and my life changed little by little. Your life does not change overnight. It changes with sometimes very small steps made by you. And, truthfully, it all depends on how much you want it. How badly do you want to be free of what is keeping you from something better? For a while, you have to be single-minded. Tenacious and relentless. You must get used to the idea of uncertainty which human beings tend to disdain. More than that, you must dislike your present circumstances more than you dislike not knowing what will happen. Once that tips, it becomes a lot easier to make big changes. The outcome becomes less important to you than making the necessary changes even if those necessary changes are ripping out the foundations of your life.
Currently, I would say that the hardest part of the past two-and-half years has been learning to live with uncertainty. It hasn’t been the loss of a marriage. I had a bad marriage. The grief associated with the loss of a dream or an idea hit me harder. The trauma that occurred within that marriage was very painful to process. The things that he said to me infested me in ways I didn’t know until they came creeping out when I was alone at night. That was very difficult, and I have cried harder and longer over the past two years than I think I have in my entire life.
And yet I can say now that it was a deep cleansing. Sexual violence can leave us feeling defiled in a very particular way. I was sexually brutalized for days in a drug-induced haze when I was in the trafficking environment. When I left that place, I felt utterly shattered and desecrated to my core, but it didn’t feel personal. Human traffickers are criminals. They are doing what they do–the job they have chosen. In that way, it was easier for me to heal. While I experienced shame, it was somehow easier to deal with because, while I felt for years that it was my fault, it didn’t land or fester in certain areas of my identity.
After the sexual violence in my marriage occurred, I was brought low into a place of utter desolation. My husband raped me. More than once. And then he blamed me for it. He tore my hip apart. He herniated the muscles supporting my pelvic floor. I required two corrective surgeries–one requiring months of rehabilitation in which I had to learn how to walk again and the other requiring a stay in the hospital and weeks of no driving, no lifting, and sitting on pillows. It was humiliating.
I will probably not discuss the nature of the domestic violence in my former marriage again, and I do so now with a reason. What I have realized now that I have some distance is that it feels harder to overcome trauma endured from a friend. From an intimate. Brené Brown suggests in her latest book that it is harder to hate someone close up. To counter popular and anonymous hatred, we should then move in. What if that hatred comes from someone close to you? From someone who promised to love you? The opposite of love isn’t what most people assume. It isn’t throwing candelabras and screaming while stomping around and launching invective. No, that’s not hatred. That’s rage. Hatred in an intimate relationship is complete disengagement to the point of treating the former beloved as if they do not exist, and, when the beloved continually seeks out some form of validation that they do indeed matter, lashing out in violence to make the point that they do not and will not.
This is the opposite of love, and it is extraordinarily difficult to heal from. Why? This kind of treatment erodes your ability to retain hope and trust. As much as I wanted to believe that someone I loved wouldn’t do to me what my ex-husband did, I could not. When someone said, “But, I love you,” my mind would simply counter with, “That is what he said.” If your partner could hurt you so profoundly while saying he loves you afterwards, then how will you ever know what is true again? It is this uncertainty that has nearly undone me. It is this uncertainty that has done the most damage to my ability to trust myself again and my ability to make good judgment calls.
What is to be done about it? How does one heal from it? For real? How? Well, this is what I have done and continue to do:
- If it is not true, then do not believe it. Or, at least acknowledge that you intellectually do not buy into it even if you emotionally agree with it. Beginning to separate the two is the beginning of the healing process. It also helps you begin to discern what’s driving your responses.
- If you aren’t sure whether it’s true or not, then ask someone, like a therapist or close friend, to help you figure it out. Trauma weaves a strange web, and sometimes when something causes a flare-up or exacerbates PTSD symptoms, you just can’t discern what’s true anymore. Call someone who knows you so that you don’t fall down the rabbit hole.
- It is okay if your emotions are not catching up with what you know cognitively. It takes time to bridge the gap (this is called dissonance). An example from my own life is this thought: “I am disposable.” Cognitively, I know that this is false. Emotionally, it feels so true sometimes. How do I merge the emotional belief and the cognition so that the dissonance is resolved? This is where EMDR comes in. This is why seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma and EMDR is so vital. When it flares up, I have to make a choice, and sometimes I can’t. I must ride the wave of pain that always passes.
- Build a squad of people who are good to you. Those people should see you as you are far beyond what has happened to you–your identity is not tied into your trauma. More than that, who you are is in no way reflective of how your former abusers saw you. That goes a long way into bridging dissonance.
- Take a look at what you are letting into your imagination. When you leave an abuser and an abusive environment, you get to choose what comes into your mind and imagination. You finally have say. What will you read? What movies and shows will you watch? What forms of entertainment will you consume? What music will you listen to? How will you rebuild your brain? This matters. Will it be dark and mournful or hopeful and beautiful? Empowering? Or angry? Passive? Active? What helps you feel better? This is a time to begin to think about your tastes, your likes and dislikes, who you were, and who you are becoming.
- Take some time to try to imagine your future life and do something in the present that your future self will thank you for. This might sound cheesy, but this actually helped me make the final decision to go back to graduate school. When I took into account the time that it would take me to complete my graduate degree I winced. But, then I realized that the time would pass anyway, and I imagined my future self thinking, “I’m so glad that I did this.” I knew that I wouldn’t regret my decision.
- We must all banish the idea of “arriving”. There will never come a time when life will be easier. We will never be happier when X happens. I promise. I once thought that I would be happier when I lost the “baby weight”. I did. I wasn’t. I then thought that my life would be perfect once I finally had meaningful sex with a man who really loved me. I did. I won’t lie about that one. That was a marker of my life vastly improving, but I was still me. I still struggled with finances, thought patterns and habits that I disliked, and my disdain for that one tooth I don’t like. And, I’m still an introvert.
- Lastly, be kind to yourself. Be very, very, very kind to yourself. This is probably the hardest thing to do out of everything. It might, however, be the most important.
We are in the holiday season now. If there were any time of year to show yourself patience and kindness, then it’s now. With that, I wish you, my readers, the deepest peace and restfulness that you are probably wishing everyone else through your holiday greetings and well-wishes. May it truly be so for each of you.