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.