Sometimes a lot happens in one therapy session, hence a longer post than usual.
I carry my bad attitude (“don’t tell me I’m *&%^! fine“) with me to therapy today. I have a 1:15 appointment and arrive just in time. I make myself a note that I have two things to talk about, though I didn’t know if they will fit in one session. One is was a question: can she help me tap into the wounded girl’s feelings? Because drawing and writing and other exercises at home, none of that is getting me anywhere. Second is this: I feel detached from the world, very alone and distressed, and of course frustrated when people think I should be fine now that decided to believe the girl and take my leave of absence from work. Driving over to see her in the car, the words came to mind were I feel a neediness, a hole as big as a canyon. Melodramatic, but then you’re allowed to be melodramatic in therapy.
So I sit in the waiting area of the pretty Victorian house where E. has her practice. And I wait. I watch the minute hand on the clock move. Where is she? She is the one who moved up the appointment from 1:30 to 1:15. Has she forgotten? Has another appointment run over? Why is she late?!? What if she’s sick? I’m irritated, but I’m also afraid that I won’t get my session today after all.
At 1:30 she comes partway down the stairs like she usually does, smiles, and invites me up. I can’t smile back. We enter her office, and she says, “So are you all relaxed from your time off?” ?!?!??!!!!! Exactly the wrong thing to say, but of course she doesn’t know that.
I plop down in the armchair and mumble something like, “Not yet, working on it.” We look at each other for a minute.
“We were supposed to start at 1:15,” I say, frowning. In the many years of knowing her, I have never talked to her in that flat but clearly displeased tone of voice.
“What?” she says. “No, it was 1:30.”
“You emailed me and asked if I could come 15 minutes earlier. You wanted to change it.”
“Oh no, sorry, wait…” she gets up and runs over to her desk. “Oh, you are right! This was that week. Oh, I’m sorry.” She sits back down again.
“So do you still have time?” I demand. I still sound grumpy, but inside I am afraid of her answer.
“I have half an hour.” she tells me. “Will that work? Or we can talk on the phone later?” (Side note to be fair: she has never done this before, and I’ve probably seen her a couple hundred (?) times.)
“No, no, no. Half an hour is no good. I’m feeling so needy,” I literally have never said that to her before. I haven’t wanted to be needy, so I’ve hid it even when I’ve felt it. Today I even tell her about my canyon-sized hole.
Now she hears me. She texts her client to move back her next appointment. And she turns back to me with a deeper level of attention. Thank god, I think. I can’t hold it all. I need her to help me.
But now that E. is really ready to hear me, I find myself at a loss for words. I tell her I feel alone, I feel needy, but I can’t define that neediness. I tell her how annoyed I’ve felt at the expectation that I’m supposed to be better now, that it feels invalidating.
Her voice is warm, “Of course it does! You’ve been hurt, severely, in ways that have affected your whole life. You can heal, but in some ways, you will always carry that scar.”
Thank you, that is what I need to hear. It was a big deal. I tell her that I feel I have been like a bratty, resistant, unreasonable child, wanting to shout, I’m not all right!
“What did you call it? Unreasonable? Maybe it’s not so unreasonable.” She goes on to talk about the time it takes to heal. It’s okay to not be fine. That’s good, it helps, but I still can’t really name the source of my agitation.
“Okay, then. Let’s slow down and breathe, slow and deep,” she does the same breathing with me. “This distress you are feeling, where is it in your body?”
What? It’s in my head, my crazy head, not in my body… no wait, maybe it is.
“It’s in my belly, I think.”
“Breathe into it,” she keeps breathing slowly, and so do I. We are quiet for a minute.
“No,” I say. “It’s not my belly. It’s lower: my hips, my vagina, my whole pelvis.”
“Oh,” E. replies. “That’s a very vulnerable part of our bodies. It’s a place we seldom talk about. It’s particularly vulnerable for women who have experienced sexual abuse. It can be hard to talk about that, even in therapy.” She pauses a bit, “What does it want to tell you? What is the message from this tender place?”
What does it want to tell me? How should I know? I shrug, like it doesn’t bother me that I don’t even know what she means.
“Okay, we don’t have to rush to questions. Let’s just keep breathing, nice and slow. Know that you can contain this pain or fear or whatever the feeling is. It won’t overwhelm you.”
Long pause. I appreciate it sometimes when she lets the silence sit in the room with us. This gives me time to untangle the knots in my head.
“I told you about this a long time ago, maybe you remember. Stephen or Steven, I don’t even remember which it was anymore… he hit me and…” I couldn’t say rape, I never can call this experience rape. But I’m not going to say “he had sex with me” either. It’s awkward (mild understatement).
“I remember,” E. says, quietly. “It was a long time ago that you told me, but I remember.”
Pause, silence, pause. I’m remembering, continuing to untangle the knot. “He hit me between my legs, hard, which of course hurt… and afterwards I was so sore, but I just had to go back to [other city where I was still living at the time; it was when I was in the process of moving here]. I had to go back and take care of my little boys and try to hold it together. I told my friend Gina, not any details at all, just that I’d experienced an assault. She advised me to go to the hospital, so I could get morning-after pills, so I wouldn’t get pregnant.”
E. nods, listening.
“So I did, and I checked in at the ER with a nurse who was very nice. But the doctor was very aggravated because I didn’t want him to use a rape kit to collect evidence. I was too afraid and too ashamed. I was afraid to ever see Steven again, afraid my children would find out or he’d say something to them, ashamed that I had let it all happen. There probably wasn’t much to collect anyway, since it was 1-2 days later, and I had already showered multiple times. But still, the doctor was very disapproving. The counselor there told me I should call the Rape Crisis Center to follow up. But when I did, it was very unsatisfying. The volunteer just told me something to the effect of you’re safe now.”
Which is about as helpful as “you are doing fine.”
E. asks me, “Were you able to talk to the therapist, the one you first worked with?”
“No, different town, this was later. I did have a therapist I had worked with a little. She was good, but I didn’t know her that well. I just went to see her the afternoon I went to the hospital. I told her some of it. But right after that I moved, so I think I just talked to her that one time.”
“What about your husband? Have you told him?”
“He knows something happened, and that sometimes I get triggered by something I read or see in a movie. But he doesn’t know more than that. Basically I only told you the details, and even that in an edited version. And then the few readers of my blog but of course don’t know my name, so that seems safer.”
Yikes, I have just told her that I didn’t give her the whole story last time. I have no doubt she notices, but she doesn’t say anything about it.
“Maybe this experience still needs some processing.”
I nod, “But you will help me? I don’t want to do it by myself.”
“Of course. We can spend a few weeks on it, or months if you want, whatever pace feels right. Don’t rush it. It doesn’t need to be fast. Give it the time and attention it deserves. In time, maybe you can bring someone from your house. I don’t know which part might be able to help with this.”
“Maybe the nurse again,” I suggest.
“Better than the doctor at the hospital, I would imagine,” E. says. She really likes the characters who live in my house. “In the meantime, you could try to bring some soothing to your body. That’s a mental challenge but also a physical one that could need touch. It’s so hard, because the pelvis is vulnerable and private. Generally we don’t put our hands on it around others–you are welcome to in this room, if you feel comfortable. I’m trying to think of what else might be good. I’m thinking a warm bath? Maybe a hot water bottle, or some lavender or other oil or lotion on your legs and hips? Perhaps warm towels…”
Perhaps Silence should be another character in my house. She certainly had a big space in E.’s office today. We sat with her a while longer.
“Maybe it’s my appointment next Monday with the gynecological specialist that brought all this up.”
“Maybe,” she says. “What are you going for?”
“A vaginal prolapse,” I tell her. “And I really didn’t know much about it, but I got the referral and when I called for the appointment, the receptionist asked if I wanted to start by meeting with the surgeon. I was surprised. I hadn’t realized that I might be looking at surgery. It ended up that I didn’t have much choice, since only the surgeon has clinic hours on this side of town.”
“Oh no, no.” E. springs into her active mode. “You do have a choice. You can go on line and find out more about this doctor. If you don’t like what you see, you have the choice to drive to the other side of town. Check the person out. You have control over this. You can even leave in the middle of the appointment if you need to. It might be awkward in the moment with the doctor, but afterwards, exercising control will feel good to all the parts of you.”
She’s right, I think, seeing it as soon as the words are out of her mouth. I’ve been passive long enough… maybe I will even bring my husband into the appointment with me. It’s my choice.
We talk a little while longer, bringing things back to a more normal place so I can leave feeling calm. As I get up to leave, I notice that we’ve actually run 15 minute overtime.
“Thanks for trusting me,” she says.
I’m surprised. “Thanks for listening.” She gives me a quick, half hug as I leave her office, something she hasn’t done before. But I needed it, and she sees that. I leave feeling reconnected to her, and I’m calmer tonight.