Trauma– it’s in the details 

Bea’s drinking coffee today, and so we talk about coffee. I love coffee, it’s my favorite drink. I love fancy coffee drinks, simple lattes, plain black coffee and coffee with cream. So, we talk about coffee because it’s easy and simple to do. We talk about coffee because I want to avoid talking about the image I’d finally managed to write about just the night before. 

Eventually though, Bea directs us to our work with a gentle push. “Can we talk about Wednesday, and how that session was for you?” 

I nod. “Okay.” And then I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. “It was better than the Wednesday before?” It’s true, but it comes out as a question, maybe because I am questioning what she wants to hear. 

“Yes, that’s good. How was it better?” 

“Well, it just…..I didn’t leave upset. It was better.” I’m looking at down at my hands, sort of here but not here because I know where this conversation is heading. 

“What was it like to talk about and notice some boundaries? Have you noticed them more in your life as we have been working with them?” Bea’s voice is curious. 

“I don’t know. Not really, I guess. I’m sorry.” I mumble. I don’t get why we are talking about boundaries. I guess that is some of what we have been talking about and working with lately. But I don’t know what she wants. 

“That’s okay. I bet you might start to notice. I was just curious because boundaries aren’t something you have ever really noticed or felt before, so I wonder if being more aware of them would change how you felt things.” She shifts in her chair, picking up her coffee cup.

I don’t say anything, just nod my understanding. Bea drinks some coffee, and I drink mine and finally she asks if I did any writing. I pull out my orange notebook. “It’s not much,” I tell her as I hand it over. 

She starts to read, and I start some mindless chatter. “I think I am talking, trying to distract you.” 

“That’s a good thing to notice, you are talking to keep my attention focused off your words.” She looks up at me. 

“I’ll stop now,” I say, and then I keep talking anyway. Bea patiently waits me out. “Okay. I want you to read.” And I stop talking, sitting quietly and hiding my face. 

I’ve sat down a few times to try to write about the image, but I just couldn’t. I don’t even remember the words that brought it up.

“I don’t remember either. I’d forgotten about the image until now but it sounds like this image is really an important thing for us to look at.” Her voice is clear, with a bit of an apology woven into it when she says she had forgotten. For whatever reason I’m not upset about this. Even now, writing it out, I’m surprised that my belief she cares and is here is still so strong, that my crazy mind isn’t using Bea’s forgetfulness as a way to convince myself that she doesn’t care. 

“I didn’t forget….” I whisper. 

“I know you didn’t.” She says, and her words say so much more than that. They hint at understanding that I don’t have the luxury of forgetting, of leaving the images in my brain at her office. 

Wednesday was better. It’s as if something clicked this time. For the little girl, realizing that you still hold the memory as a whole and that stopping talking and looking at the body stuff isn’t about you needing to get away from her and her stuff, that makes SP seem completely different now. Still scary, but not as terrible and awful as it did feel to me. 

“Yeah, of course realizing that, switching that perspective changed everything. It seemed so clear to me, that of course I’m still holding onto this memory as a whole, but the little girl didn’t see it that way. It’s no wonder SP has felt so scary and awful to her. I didn’t know that was what wasn’t making sense for her, I didn’t put two and two together. I’m so glad she knows now, I’m not going anywhere and I’m not letting go of the memory.” 

So, the image. What were the words? About not wanting to be seen or something like that, right? So. I guess I’m still struggling to put it on paper. It’s popped in my head, it’s been on my mind at times, I’ve wanted to write it, I really have, but it’s just so– I don’t have a good word for it– bleck, yuck, ick

“It was really hard to write it out, wasn’t it?” She murmurs. 

It’s true, I think, what you said about trauma, feelings, pain living in the details. That’s the problem. It really could be part of a memory already written or talked about. Looking at one small piece means details and that means no vague descriptions glossing over the things that shame, disgust and terrify me. 

“It really is the details, isn’t it?” She tells me how there are events in her life where if she thinks of the event as a whole, it doesn’t bring up the emotion that discussing and focusing on the details that have stuck with her from event would. I don’t feel better when she says this, but at least I know she gets how much more is in the details. 

Okay. This what I’m going to do. I’ll write the image on the next page and fold it over, so we can talk about it before you read it. And probably just give me a blanket now, before  you read that. I’m sort of just being funny, but also that is just how strong the image is– I want to hide just thinking about it. 

 

I’m hiding my face, but I hear Bea get up to get me a blanket. “I’m going to set this blanket next to you, okay?” She says and I reach my hand out, so she hands it to me instead. “Maybe let’s talk a about how you are feeling right now?”

“I don’t know. Silly. Like I’m making a deal out of a thing that isn’t a deal. The judgey part is real judgey, like just stop being a drama queen and be appropriate.” 

“I don’t feel the way the judgey part feels. It feels bad to have that part here, but that can be a good thing because it means the overwhelmed parts haven’t taken over all the way.” Her voice and words are reassuring; she doesn’t feel like the judgey part feels. “Is there anything the overwhelmed parts feel?”

I think for a moment. “Sick.” 

“Sick like nauseous? Or something else?” She asks. 

“Sick……….sick, like something bad is going to happen.” Without noticing it, I’ve buried myself in the blanket. I’m so glad I’m hidden from view. I’m scared. I don’t want to be noticed.

“Sick like something bad is going to happen.” She repeats my words, just a simple statement, but it’s maybe a question too, a checking to see if there is anything I would like to add to that. 

“It….there should be a word……something else, I don’t know what…..there should be a better word for that though,” I say, stumbling over my words. 

“Maybe the little girl didn’t have a better word. Maybe that was the closest thing she had to describe what she is feeling. Adults, we have more complex words, but little girls have simple words. Sad. Mad. Sick. Hurt.” Bea is always sticking up for the little girl– for me, really. I’m so glad she finds it easy to stick up for the little girl. 

“Maybe,” I say. I realize now that the word I was needing might be dread, apprehension, trepidation, worry and tension, suspense, uneasiness….any of those would have explained it, I think.

“So, when I’m reading about the image and we are talking about it, what is a resource you can use when it gets to be overwhelming to help bring you back to the present where it is safe?” Bea asks. 

I shrug. “Talking works. But you don’t want to let me use that anymore.” Maybe I’m pouting a little bit, but I really don’t understand why if I know that talking about regular stuff helps me calm back down, why we should change what I use to be okay, just because SP says to use body based resources. 

“So, talking is an interpersonal resource. We can still use talking. It is a good way for you to know I’m still here and with you, still on your side. What do you want to talk about?”

“You know. Regular stuff. Everyday stuff.” I’m calmer now, instantly calmer. Talking is my resource, my defense, my way I stay connected or check that my secure base is there. Spoken language, words, are everything. 

“Okay, good. So when you feel like you are really overwhelmed, you can ask for a talk break, okay?” She asks, and I nod my head. “Could you also try to focus on the blanket, the color of the blanket, what it feels like, that it makes a boundary and a boundary can keep bad things out?”

“Maybe. I can try.” And I will try. If she’s not asking me to focus on my breathing and she’s not saying no talking, then okay, I can try. 

“Good. That’s good. So that’s two resources you can use.” Bea’s voice is peppy, like she’s excited I’ve agreed to try a second resource. 

I don’t say anything. I have a million words flying through my head, but each one is scarier to say out loud than the one before it, so I am silent.

“Should I read it now?” She asks me. 

“No….I…well, it’s just…… I wanted to write it just the facts, detached, but I couldn’t. I mean…the words I can’t say. It got messy. It might be incoherent to you. Ugh.” I try to explain. 

“I won’t read it until you tell me to, okay? But I think we’ve learned each other’s shorthand, we’ve created a language that is just ours, and so you might be surprised what I can make sense of.” She reassures.

I nod. That’s true. We talk a few more minutes and then I finally nod my head. “Okay. Read it.” 

“Are you sure?” Bea asks. 

“Yes. Because if you don’t then I’ll be upset later. I’m just scared. Just read it.”

She takes a deep breath. “Okay. While I’m reading, try to focus on the blanket and feeling safe, feeling contained, okay? It won’t do to have you get overwhelmed. And after I read it, as soon as I’m done, I’ll check right back in, okay?” 

I mumble an okay, and Bea starts to read. 

Okay. I see this image from two perspectives. One is from the onlooker’s. One is from the little girl’s. 

I’m little. Sitting or lying down. I don’t know, the angle is off. But he’s big, leaning over me. His, there’s, um, it’s, he’s wanting me to, he’s put, my mouth. Ugh! You know what I’m trying to say. I just can’t say it. I can’t go anywhere. He’s really close.

It doesn’t even take 5 minutes, I don’t think, for her to read it. “Okay, I’ve read it. How do you feel now?” She asks. She sounds like Bea, like normal Bea.

 

I open my mouth but no words come out. I can’t speak.

“Alice, you are too far away, notice the blanket’s boundaries. Nothing bad can happen now. You are safe.” She directs. Her voice is clear and strong and she is able to contain all of this still.

“Safe,” I whisper. 

“Yes. Right now you are safe. I know scary things happened but you are safe now.”

“I still feel sick because I don’t know what you think.” I am so embarrassed that this is what has sent me so far away. Bea’s opinion matters so much to me that I can’t calm down and so I’ve gone away instead. So, I guess I’m admitting to this attachment now. I guess I’m no longer pretending the relationship doesn’t matter to me. 

“Okay. Do you want to know what I think?” She questions me. She’s talking to me like this is normal, as if it’s okay that I care that much about what she thinks, she talks to me as if she is absolutely okay with this attachment I have to her. 

I don’t say anything. I don’t know. Do I? Maybe. She’s never asked me, just always offered reassurances in the past that she is still here, that she isn’t thinking bad things about me, that she isn’t leaving, that she now knows whatever it is I was afraid to share and nothing bad happened.

“It’s not bad or scary,” she offers.

“Then, yes,” I say.

“Right off the bat, I was struck at how powerless the little girl was. It’s a power differential, how big he is looming over you, how scary that was for the little girl. It’s very scary. This is really scary for her. And confusing, I’m sure.” Bea tells me. 

“Even the grown up can’t make sense of it,” I confess. 

She’s quiet a moment. “Does the grown up feel that this wasn’t okay at all, that this shouldn’t have ever happened to the little girl?”

I shrug. Maybe. I don’t know. I want to tell her it’s because the little girl needed too much. I want to tell her that she somehow caused it. I want to tell her that it doesn’t matter really, because the little girl was part of the disgusting stuff that happened and it all lives in my head now and so I’m disgusting and really, she probably wanted it or asked for it or some thing like that. I don’t say any of that though, because maybe that’s right, and maybe that’s wrong, and it doesn’t really answer her question anyways.

“Maybe there isn’t enough grown up online to help the little girl yet. I think really you already answered that question. The grown up doesn’t have to be here to help the little girl. It’s okay, I’m here.” Her voice is full of compassion. She’s here. She’s got the little girl, and she’s got me.

“You don’t think anything bad?” I whisper.

“Nothing bad at all.” She says back.

“Okay.” Little girl whisper.

“What do you feel like now, what do you notice now that I’ve read it and that you know what I think?” She asks. 

I try to focus. What do I feel like? I don’t know what I feel. “I don’t know. But you realIy don’t think bad things?”

“I think plenty of bad things about him! But I think it was a scary thing for such a little girl.” 

“Confusing.” I tell her. 

“That, too. It had to have been so confusing to have someone who is supposed to be your friend, whose attention you wanted, telling you to do something you didn’t want to do, that felt icky.”

“Is is icky. So icky.” I tell her. 

Something strange is happening by focusing on this one awful detail. I’m lost as to how to explain. Body memories. Pain in my privates, gagging in my throat. I want to push him away and then run. But I can’t, I can’t move, he won’t let me. And I’m not okay. This is not okay. I’m pretty sure if Bea could see me she would be asking questions or something. But instead I’m hiding under the blanket and she redirects me to notice the safety of being where I am.   

I spend a minute doing as she asks and then I tell her, “It doesn’t match.” 

“What doesn’t match?” Curiosity in her voice. 

“His words and what he does– it doesn’t match.” 

“No, no they don’t match.” She agrees.

“He said fun and a silly game and I’d like the game and it was okay. But it didn’t match!”

“No, it didn’t match. He was supposed to be someone you could trust. He was supposed to be someone who helped keep you safe.” She validates.

“And I couldn’t move.”

“It was really scary. When scary things happen, sometimes we can’t move.” She says gently.  

“No. He wouldn’t let me move,” I say, my voice is flat, sort of dead with that revelation. I’m scared and overwhelmed. I repeat myself, “He wouldn’t let me move.” And I can see it, his knees on my arms, on the inside of my elbows. There was no way I could move. 

“That’s very scary. We need to do more work with this, next time. This is a horrible time to stop, I know it is, but we need to stop. We need to come back to here and now, where you are safe and nothing bad is happening. I know the bad feelings have been brought up and they are present, but they are still feelings about the past. I know this a bad place to stop now, but try to focus on feeling safe under the blanket.” Bea is speaking softly and I can hear how bad she feels that we are out of time.

“It’s fine. I know it’s time to go.” And I start to shift where I’m sitting, prepare to come out from under the blanket, put on my boots and go.

“Not yet. We need you to be here and grounded before you leave. This is important.” She corrects me. 

“Just talk then.” I say, shrugging. I’m fine with leaving right now. 

“What do you want to talk about?”

“You know. Everyday regular stuff,” I tell her, a little annoyed to be repeating myself.

So she talks and I listen. I come back enough to be more or less okay. We say our goodbyes, Bea reminding me that this is important and we will do more work with it on Wednesday.

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9 thoughts on “Trauma– it’s in the details 

  1. Good for you. I think when such a traumatic experience is shared rather than held down it may lose some of its power. I hope you find that true and feel some release.
    That was a horrific assault to have lived through and to have kept inside yourself. I am so sorry you endured such an attack Alice. So very sorry…

    Like

    • Thank you….it has been interesting. I was able to go back and discuss it more and actually do some SP work with it all on Wednesday. I think that it has lost some power. It leaves me to wonder if glossing over things was necessary for me to get to this point, but on the flip side of glossing over things is what made it never feel like the memories were gone, or less powerful, less triggering.

      Thank you for validating how awful this really was. It felt like no big deal for so long, I think I convinced myself that I was being dramatic by feeling so overwhelmed by this. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. DV says:

    I completely understand the thing about details being so difficult. They make it real. Without the details you can gloss an event over as “that bad thing that happened, or maybe it didn’t even happen or it wasn’t that bad and I’m just remembering wrong” – but when you go into the detail you are forced to confront the question of why you would remember such very specific things if it never happened or it didn’t hurt you. And when you look at the details with an adult eye everything takes on a very different meaning from when it first happened, and it shatters the idea that any of it “just happened” or was the result of a misunderstanding. You’re very brave to keep pushing through and talking about this.

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    • Yes, this is it exactly. The details, the words explaining the details, they make it so, so real. The idea that this just happened or was a fun secret game has been completely shattered. And that is painful. Thank you for you support and understanding. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So proud of you for letting her read those words. Such a hard, awful memory to carry. I have similar ones and they make me want to crawl out of my skin, even after years of therapy (which was not as half as good as Bea – even at her worst!).

    While I was reading about you trying to define the “sick” feeling the little girl was being overwhelmed with before Bea read the words, I was thinking about the words I identified none time in therapy.

    Terror. Frantic, horrific, dread-like-the-world is ending terror. Huge force you cannot stop or control. Dread and terror.

    It still breaks my hears for the girl in me who went through this. Wanted you to know my heart feels the same for you, and her, your little one who holds these confusing, terror filled memories. Xox

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    • Thank you. I’m so sorry that you have carried similar memories. It’s not right, it’s not okay. I smiled at your comment about Bea– she is quite good at her job even when I think she is ruining everything! I’m really so grateful for her. Your words, huge force you can not stop, is exactly the feeling the little girl had. My heart breaks for all of us who have lived through feelings like this, but I have hope too, that we will heal and that the monsters won’t win in the end. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve had sessions a lot like this with E, going over specific memories and then feeling very afraid of her reaction. What she says and does in those moments immediately after the sharing is so very important. Like you, I am typically dissociating some and feeling like I am disgusting and dirty. But then she expresses her anger about what he did and her concern and care for the precious girl who is not at all disgusting.

    It seems so obvious at one level, but deep in our hearts, it’s not obvious at all, is it?

    I am so sorry you had this experience. You are not disgusting at all, not you, and not little Alice. It wasn’t at all her fault. She wasn’t too much and didn’t want anything wrong and wasn’t in any way responsible. She was tricked and lied to and manipulated and hurt. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right. She deserves love and comfort and safety and care. xxoo

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