Two weeks ago, I think I surprised E by sharing a story that she hadn’t heard before. Or rather, she knew more or less that what had happened, but no details. I hadn’t really planned it, but near the end of the session, I handed her a short paragraph I’d written up about what it was like, from the perspective of the girl (age 7? I am not sure).
We’d spent a lot of the session talking about how it was easy to interpret the U.S. election as the view held by nearly half of American voters that admitting to and joking about sexual assault wasn’t something that should disqualify an individual from being elected president. Quite apart from disagreeing with many, many other things that Donald Trump said, I was taking it personally that so many people had said, in essence, “So a man grabs an unwilling woman’s private parts, so he keeps making advances when she says no, so what? Boys will be boys, you know.”
E was super clear, however, “not in my house, not in my practice.” Sexual assault, not okay, racism, not okay, immigrant bashing, making fun of people with disabilities, homophobia, not okay! She was clear that part of her response was to ensure that any environment where she had any influence would be welcoming and caring. It would believe our stories and empathize with our experiences.
I hadn’t realized it, but I think in a way I was asking for E’s reassurance, yet again, that it was safe and acceptable to bring all my pieces and parts to her, not just the socially acceptable ones I show to the world. I may think I “shouldn’t” need that reassurance any longer, but evidently I do, and she’s patient about providing it, over and over. So as the session wore on, I relaxed. I remembered that I could feel safe in her office. I felt safe. And that made me not want to wait anymore. I pulled out a piece of paper I had tucked in my journal, where I had typed up something I’d written days before, about the little girl’s experience.
“Are you sure you want me to read this?” E asked, holding the still-folded paper. “We don’t need to rush. You can hang onto it, think it over, and bring it back when you feel ready.” She often reminds me that there is no rush.
Sometimes, however, I just feel tired of holding it all to myself. “No,” I told her, “I want you to read it. I’ll just play with your dolls while you read it. If that’s okay.”
“Of course,” she said.
She has a set of matryoska nesting dolls on her shelf. She likes them as a metaphor for the multiple younger selves that lie within all of us. I had never touched them before, but now I opened the big one and the next one and the next one. It gave me something to do and an excuse not to look at her while she read. I still heard her, though.
“Oh,” she said in a sad voice. “Oh, honey.” And other gentle, concerned sounds.
We didn’t have more than five minutes left to process emotions, but E let me know 1) it was messed up; 2) it wasn’t my fault; 3) she was grateful I trusted her. I left feeling surprisingly stable and good, all things considered.
I packed up the matryoshka dolls, tucking the smaller ones inside the bigger ones, and telling the biggest one to protect and care for the littler ones inside her. She gave me her bright, shiny smile to assure me that she would.
Over the next several days, I did experience some of those now-familiar waves of overwhelming shame, horror and fear that accompany any revelation. But they didn’t knock me out the way they have in the past, and they didn’t last as long. A few days later, I had my first EMDR session with C (the mind/body therapist I see every other week), and I used the chance to process the same event. I didn’t even have to tell C what it was I was processing (which in some ways is strange to me). The EMDR experience is something best left for another post, but what helped me most was C’s absolute conviction that allowing things to be jumbled and confused in my head was absolutely fine, normal even.
Five days after I’d shared the write-up with E, I was feeling quite good and furthermore, encouraged that my life hadn’t crumbled to bits in the process of sharing a secret.
Wow, its amazing how much progress your seeing in your healing. You have developed a lot of trust in your counselor. I am happy you are taking care of yourself.
Thanks, I am happy too. We had a rough and bumpy year together, but things have settled again, and for now at least, it seems like skills and emotions and mindfulness are coming together in helpful ways.
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Happy for you, Q, that you were able to be vulnerable with her and that it went well! To feel validated and cared for… that’s such a wonderful feeling.
Also, I LOVE the idea of the dolls – I think I may very well share that with T at some point! ❤ xx
Nice metaphor, right? I am considering buying some. Just hesitating because… well… I am unemployed and trying not to spend money. For now maybe I’ll be satisfied with photographs of them.
I am really happy that you were able to share the 7 year olds story of how things went. I live the image of the matryoska dolls and think that I need some. I like the way your therapist reacted to your writing. Sometimes, I just really need to hear, awww, honey. I also need permission on a regular basis to share/feel/talk about the stuff that doesn’t seem like social niceties.
Right?!? “Aw, honey,” feels damn good. I mean, there are a lot of other things to say about it, but starting there feels absolutely right. Also the next day she sent me a text asking how I was feeling after sharing the story. I appreciate that so much.
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Q, thank you for sharing – this is so beautifully written. I too like the imagery of the Matryoshka dolls… it’s comforting.
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I’m glad that E is attuned to you and cares for you. You deserve to be cared for and understood. It’s so vulnerable to reveal what you did.
One thing that gives me hope is that two years ago, even a year ago, it would not have been possible for me to share this story. I can see that things have shifted: more trust in E, more belief that the shame isn’t mine, better ability to care for myself, more conviction that I can survive this. I wish I had known, months or years ago, that it would take time but things would change.
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I’m so happy to have read this, Q. I can definitely “hear” or rather “feel” the relief and the calmness that you were feeling near the end of the post. I’m glad that you were able to share with E and that after the slight bump in your journey together (it’s been a while since I’ve last checked in so the event that sticks out the most to me was the conflict that you and E had for a little while).
The matryoshka dolls btw, makes for an amazing metaphor of how the large self covers all the smaller selves selves. I found that quite fascinating and very relatable.
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So glad you aren’t having to hold that experience all by yourself. And super proud of you that you were able to move through the after effects well. You really have come a long way and are doing so well. I like the dolls.