While slogging my way through a rough day last Saturday, I wanted to reach out to my therapist, E., but in the end, I didn’t allow myself. In Monday’s therapy session, I started off telling her, “I had a hard time on Saturday, and I thought about calling you or emailing you. I wrote an email but then I didn’t send it.”
“Okay,” she smiled. “What were you wishing for when you thought about reaching out? Did you want me to help you with something specific? Maybe you just wanted to some reassurance that it would pass?”
(Good first sign, I think. She doesn’t frown and shake her head. She doesn’t say “phone calls are only for emergencies,” even though that’s her general policy. She doesn’t say, You idiot, can’t you handle your own emotions by now, after all this therapy? What’s wrong with you?!)
“No, I don’t really know what it was exactly that I wanted. But I knew it would pass.”
She thinks for a minute. “Perhaps you wanted a reminder of something we had talked about here?”
I shake my head.
“Maybe you wanted someone to witness your pain, acknowledge it. Maybe you didn’t want to feel alone.”
I think that’s it. I felt so alone, with my husband gone and no one else I could talk to about the craziness of it all. “Yeah, that’s probably it,” I tell her.
“That makes sense. It’s hard to be alone with it, but with sexual trauma, it’s also not something you share casually,” she says. “I’m glad you thought about reaching out. I think it could be a very healthy thing for you to reach out and see if you can get the support you need. If you think about this in part as work to rewire the brain, experiences like that will be helpful to you.”
I look at her a little skeptically. I think, I don’t like to ask anyone for anything. It’s too humiliating if the person doesn’t want to meet my needs.
She repeats, more emphatically this time. “It could be good for you to ask to have your needs met and then to have them met. I can see that being very healing for you.”
Maybe, I think, but it’s risky. I’m not at all used to anyone wanting to be there for that.
I tell her, “I don’t know. In the end I didn’t send it because I thought, what is the use? What could you really say? You couldn’t fix it. You’ve already taught me lots. It’s just up to me to use it. You can’t rescue me. So I would be bothering you on the weekend, and there would be no point.”
“I don’t think you are asking me to rescue you. You’ve never been asking for that. And I know that you know that I can’t do that for you. But it is my job to help you become whole. I have chosen that work, and I love that work. It’s fine for you to ask me to do something that can help you with your healing. I welcome that.”
I nod my head. I hear her but don’t know what to say. I am very touched that she wants to respond to my emotional needs, even outside of our sessions. At some level, I know she would respond in a positive way, but another part of me is still hesitant.
E. explains to me how it could work. “You could email me and ask if I have time to talk; you can suggest some possible times. I might not respond instantly, but like most people, I tend to check my emails pretty regularly. Then we can set up a time and talk. I’m happy to tell you that you are doing all the right things, that I see a lot of growth in you. I’ll be glad to acknowledge that it’s very difficult sometimes, but also that I see the strength in you. You are able to let those feelings move through you without being knocked down. I can remind you that I’m here by your side while you do this important work…” and more in this vein.
It’s helpful to me that she lays out what it might look like. That makes it less mysterious and scary if I do decide to call sometime in the future. I still don’t talk much because her willingness to be there for me makes me happy and frightened at the same time.
After a while, I ask her, “So do you want to see the email?”
Naturally, she does. First I edit out two sentences that I am not ready to talk about today, and then I hand her my phone. She reads that I am overwhelmed with ill-defined feelings in my body, feelings that also leave my head confused and make it hard for me to remember how to react to what’s happening, all the things I experienced Saturday.
E tells me, “If I had read this Saturday, I would have wanted to tell you to trust that you have the capacity to meet whatever is there. You don’t need to run from it. You can say, ‘Oh, it’s you again, you feelings, I know you. You are all over the place today. But I can handle it. You can’t take me down. I don’t have to harm myself. Instead, I’ll ask you, big feelings, what can I do to listen to you? How can I learn more about what you are trying to communicate?'”
“I would have reminded you,” she continues, “that resisting the feelings make them into a monster. But approaching them and listening to them will reduce their power.”
“Yes, you are right, I do actually know that. Avoiding something painful makes it hurt more, but walking toward it and being willing to examine it without judgment helps a lot.”
We talk about how hard it is for me to find language for some of the feelings. E. thinks they may be early feelings from a young girl who doesn’t necessarily have the words for what happened to her or what she is afraid of. So we consider more physical alternatives.
“What about some wild painting? What about your mutilated dolls?”
I shake my head, but smiling, “No, those are specifically about saying this is an outrage. They are about anger.”
“Drawing then, with whatever tools you like. It could be good to work with your non-dominant hand. You could also try dance and see if that works for you as a way to express the body sensations you feel. If our bodies really do hold memories, as many therapists believe, then you can let your body muscles holding the old pain move to express or relieve it.”
“Do you know Gabriel Roth? She has done work on the five rhythms of life and sacred dance. She has CDs, but also there are groups that work with those rhythms under various names, such as Soul Motion or Chakradance. There is also TRE (trauma release experience)–there’s lots of information about this online. I also have a colleague who does therapeutic Thai massage.”
I think about these suggestions. It seems like the right time to start working more intentionally with my body, to experience or release the enormous, powerful physical feelings that overtake me sometimes. I’ve already started to look for local opportunities.
And at the back of my mind, I’ve stored away the idea that E. says it’s all right for me to call her if I feel like I need to. I don’t know if I ever will reach out, but I like knowing that the lines are open.