Session from this morning is at a point now for me where it feels other worldly. It was more intense than yesterday’s session, it was more intense than the session where I let go for the first time.
I arrived early and ran into her outside her office so we went in together. She asked if I wanted to start and end early or wait, I said start because work generally doesn’t know when I take these early appointments and then I’d be basically on time.
I asked for the new blanket almost immediately – she obliged, and it is much softer than the old one. She started by telling me I did good work yesterday and asked if I was feeling less activated. I said yes – because that was true – I was able to be at home last night and feel safer. I felt heard and validated by her, which for me brings up a lot of shame. A lot of “you don’t deserve that” from the critical voice.
I immediately think of all the reasons I don’t deserve care – the pervasive narrative of my childhood. That I’m over reacting or over emotional and making a big deal out of nothing. And if I manage to avoid that voice, then it tries to convince me that A isn’t safe. That she doesn’t really care, that my parents are behind it somehow, that she’s going to wait until I trust her and then leave me.
“That makes sense to me, PD. And I think the more you give into this process and the more I’m consistent, the smaller that doubtful voice becomes. It is also about survival for you – in a lot of ways you survived on your own and connection threatens that. Or appears to.”
I answer “Validation, it just…” I trail off. She waits 30 seconds or so, she is good at silence.
“It just, feels, so wrong. Ugh.” At this point I put my hand over my stomach, I feel nauseous and it’s physically painful to be having this conversation. I learn later that terror lives there – where I originally was holding. We talk about the pain for a bit and eventually, somehow, round out to me saying this.
“I was trying to think last night about the last time I can clearly remember actively feeling validated and cared for by my Mother… I’ve seen a video of it happening from when I was 2, before my brother, a motorcycle scares me and she’s there. But that’s not my memory…”
I trail off again.
“What would you like to share with me about the memories you do have?”
“My Mom, she was a school principal. For a long time. And I used to go to school with her sometimes (although now that I think about it why wasn’t I in school?). And we would go out on the playground with the kids, at recess, and they would all run up to her and hold her hand and hug her and… they loved her. And she loved them in return. She especially loved the difficult ones, the ones who needed her. I remember, in those moments, seeing her love my brother, and seeing her love these other kids…. and thinking, what’s wrong with me?”
A says something, I can’t remember what. It’s lovely and encouraging and kind though, I’m sure. At this point I’m starting to get overwhelmed. I am looking at the door (to the right) and counting by 3s in my head, which is my thing. It’s what I do when I’m overwhelmed. She sees this, she asks me where I’m going but I don’t answer, I’m going far away to my numb place where it doesn’t hurt… but I don’t get there this time.
Instead, all of a sudden every single instance of me ever being abandoned in a time where I felt great need for my parents played out before me like a movie reel… including times where I was visibly injured but my brother needed tending to “first” despite not being injured. And it was all the feelings I had stifled of not being good enough and that I’m the worst and that the reason they couldn’t be there for me must have been my fault. It was without a doubt the scariest instance of memory I have ever had.
And it came with these feelings – and I’m not describing it well. I’m curled up on the couch in a ball so tense, looking at this door, and thinking about/seeing these memories play out before me… I can’t go into detail, or I’ll go back there. But I’m terrified. I’m legitimately struck by terror. And A is saying something but I can’t hear her or really even see her, she might as well not exist at this point.
It was this sudden and visceral and confronting highlight reel of everything negative that ever happened to me – moments on moments on moments – and all the emotion that should have come with it was compounded together and multiplied.
At some point, A was closer to me and I heard her say calmly and gently “can I have your hand, PD?” And then she was holding it and then I was halfway between two worlds. She knew she had lost me and she was trying to get me back, and the physical contact at that point was my only bridge between her and this compelling movie reel combined with all the feelings I never allowed myself to feel.
At this point I begin to sob. Not controlled cry or reluctant tears but sob. These tears are coming from deep within my soul, they are tears that have remained insulated and hidden for decades. They are the tears of my childhood. They are streaming down my face, my eyes still focused on this highlight reel, wide with terror, and tears are falling. I can’t stop them and I don’t try. A is saying soothing things and trying to capture my attention, still holding on to my hand. She will squeeze and I will briefly look and then I’m back – it’s like watching a train wreck happen and being unable to stop it.
I want to point at the door and go “CANT YOU SEE THIS? CANT YOU SEE? DONT YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?!” Of course I know that there is no real thing to see, but I want to be like “Look, Look, this is shattering everything I ever knew about myself WHY can’t you see this!!” I am captivated by these memories that feel like they are literally putting my heart through a paper shredder. She’s talking and I can barely hear her.
I remember her saying among everything else, “Wherever you are, I have to bring you back here, you’re clearly terrified and I need you to come back so I can keep you safe.” And I remember choking out “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. I’m sorry” over and over she goes “no, no PD, absolutely no sorry. You are doing everything perfectly, I just need you to breathe, try to look at me, that’s it. This is a response to trauma. This is new, I can tell it’s new, it’s okay. I see you hurting. I see you. I’m right here. It’s going to end, but I need you to trust me when I say it is safer for you to come back with me than to stay where you are.”
It takes me 20 minutes to come back – and to breathe, and to connect with her – and she asks if I want to talk about it and I do, but I tell her I can’t – it was like this black fog -I told her I couldn’t talk about it and stay present, and I knew we were at the end of the session so we end up taking the time to just focus on safety and body awareness cause I feel SO far away.
My arms are aching and my body hurts from holding myself in a ball… and she was so lovely and after I’m always so embarrassed. I told her that, and she said “I think that letting me into that moment is wonderful, not worthy of embarrassment. This is how we learn that we have a choice in how we experience memories, that we have control, that our feelings matter. Maybe not always like this – but you have to experience these things, the care and attunement, to believe them. To believe you are worthy of them.”
“And in those moments, PD, I need you to do your best to come back to the present where I can be with you. Because I can’t be with you wherever you just went. When I ask you to try to be with me it’s so that I can keep you safe. I know it hurts, and I know in the moment it feels safer to go away, but I need you to be here with me so I know you are okay.”
I tell her that this time was different – it was not a safe place to go away to, it was full of memories and so much hurt and pain. I get her point, that it was worrisome for her that I wasn’t able to ground like normal – but she also knows I was so far away from reality and it was not a numb place where things felt safe.
I look at her “it was absolutely terrifying.”
She looks at me, she’s still only about a foot away, but she dropped my hand at an appropriate time. “You looked terrified.”
“It’s a good thing you reflect calm in those moments.” I want to ask her how much effort that takes – to sit and watch a human have such a visceral, terrifying experience – and to calmly see them and hold space for them. To project total control and calm. I don’t – but she says “it’s a privilege, to be included in the process. There is something so raw and real and potent about the vulnerability, the humanity, that you allow me to witness.”
I’m so far away from the emotion, now, as I type this. I went straight to work and disconnected I think – it’s what I do, it’s how I stay functional.
But that experience today taught me two things that I can feel and I can see and I cannot unlearn. The first is that I can no longer blame myself for what happened to me. Watching that little girl in the highlight reel… there is no way, no way that any of that was her fault. It made sense to think it was my fault when I was a child, it was protective – believing I was faulty was safer than believing that my parents, my caretakers were incapable in some ways – biologically, incapable parents is a death sentence for any young animal… So we believe we are at fault – and while I see why I needed to believe that then, I… I can’t believe that now. Not anymore. Not after witnessing the effects of my childhood first hand.
And the second thing I learned, is the amount of pain and terror – visceral, real, and as A said, potent… that that little girl on the stairs went through. There is no denying the amount of pain that lives in me. There is no more shying away from the pain of the experiences I must integrate.
And while these truths are incredibly brutal – they are also empowering and freeing. I said to A at the end, because I knew she had already let me run over (an hour came up in the middle… and she couldn’t let me leave like that, ethically, she said), I said “don’t let me forget about this. I’m too scared to go back there right now and I can’t talk about it without going back there….”
“We have time, PD. I’m not going anywhere”
We have time. We have time…