A little before my Wednesday therapy session last week, I’m sitting with a pen and paper, scribbling down what I’m feeling, trying to figure out what I’d like to focus on with E. I start with “In a way, I don’t know what to talk about today. I’m fine, sort of…” but as so often happens, as my pen continues to move across the page, something more emerges.
I think about my earlier attempts at reaching out to offer care and healing to my younger, wounded self. They were often awkward and tentative, and they borrowed heavily from the language E gave to me–her language, not mine. I realize it could be helpful to go back and explore what it means to truly embrace my younger self.
And in that moment, I have a vision of myself, a tall and skinny 14-year-old, getting into my dad’s car in the morning. He’s picking me up after I spent the night in the home of family “friends.” He’s picking me up after all my exclamations of “no, no, stop, don’t” were overridden. I am stunned and dizzy, and I cling to the handle of the car door as we drive down the driveway.
In E’s office, once we’re settled in, I tell her I’d like to talk about the 14-year-old again, about her experience with Caleb.
“I know,” I say, embarrassed. “I know we’ve talked about it a lot. I’m sorry. You are probably thinking, oh my god, not again…”
“On the contrary,” she tells me. “I’m thinking, it’s so good that you are sensing that the girl needs some attention, and you are wanting to give it to her. It’s not as though we process these things one time, and then it’s all over. They come up in our lives, again and again, in different ways. We get better at recognizing when our parts need attention, and we get better at meeting their needs, but it’s entirely normal to revisit these wounding experiences.”
She seems to be genuinely glad to take up this story again, so I retell it. This time I don’t need to go through all the details of what happened, how it all happened. This time around, I’m focused mostly on how she felt that next morning.
E encourages me to address the girl as if I’m really talking to her. I can give her messages like this, she suggests:
- I can see how shocked you feel.
- You feel really alone with this. You don’t have anyone to turn to.
- You probably feel there’s no one who would understand or who could listen without judging you harshly.
These do seem like messages that my 14-year-old self could have used way back then. But it’s so long ago. Does it do any genuine good to offer those messages now?
E insists it does. “The subconscious doesn’t have a sense of time,” she tells me.
“And how do you know that?” I ask, a little suspiciously, a little curiously.
She laughs. “I guess we don’t know that, not in a way we can prove it. But we see it in the way the emotions of the past can get mixed with the emotions of the present.”
E tells me that I can reassure the girl that even though time has passed, I’m here now, and I can offer her the caring and energy and attention now that she needs. I can tell her that I wish she’d had that support earlier, but giving it to her now matters to me.
I think about this for a bit. “Okay, that makes some sense. But what about this, one of the things she has the most difficulty with: she had an orgasm.”
(I notice that, this time at least, I don’t feel like I’m going to faint saying that aloud.)
“Right,” E says. “So part of your message to her will be something like, ‘It must be really confusing that orgasms can come from the physical stimulation of the body, even when the mind didn’t choose to participate, didn’t even want to be there. You can tell her, I can see why that would be difficult. Please be careful what conclusions you draw from this about yourself or about what you wanted or invited. It doesn’t mean you wanted it.’ She’ll need to know that.”
I’m understanding, finally, why E always has me talk about “what happened to the 14-year-old girl,” rather than “what happened to me.” It’s easier to take a half a step back that way; it’s less overwhelming.
“That’s a really important message,” I agree. “because she did feel like maybe she wanted it after all. And then to remember Caleb looking at her, sort of smirking because he overcame all her protests… It makes her feel dirty about the whole thing. But I can tell her not to let Caleb, a 14-year-old pushy, ill-informed boy, define the situation for her. He didn’t know what she did or didn’t really want. He didn’t care.”
Towards the end of the session, E tells me that when I’m thinking and writing about this, to ask the girl, “what’s it like for you to hear me say that it’s normal to have an orgasm under such circumstances? What is it like to hear me say that you don’t need to carry any shame about it?” She tells me to try to write back from the perspective of that girl. By asking her “what is it like for you,” we can find out whether something remains unaddressed or if there’s something else she needs.
In some ways, this therapy session is a repeat of many other therapy sessions I’ve had with E over the years. Her approach to looking at the girl as a semi-separate entity, having conversations with her, empathizing with what she’s probably feeling–all of that is familiar to me by now.
And yet, it doesn’t feel like a waste of time to do it again. I’m in a different emotional space now. I never thought I’d get past the enormous waves of shame that used to crash over me when I tried to talk about what happened, but the truth is, I am past that. Not to say I have no feelings of shame left, but it doesn’t overwhelm me anymore. And since the session is not all about how shame is suffocating me, it can be about something else. It can be about the beliefs about herself and the life lessons the girl drew from her experience.