Yoga

I’m up before everyone else, up before even the sun dares to rise. The nightmares still creep in, but I’m better equipped to deal with them now. I sit in bed, frozen, for a few moments. Maybe longer than moments. I’m not sure. Time doesn’t exist in this frozen place. I slowly begin to move, picking up my phone and opening old emails from Bea. I read a few of those, and begin to feel safe enough to sit all the way up, gather my things and head out to the living room. I spend the next half hour sad and frozen on the couch, buried under a blanket and cuddled up with my dog. I’m in that window of being half frozen, partly stuck in the past but also aware that it is NOW, 2016, and that I am in my home, far away from where terrible things happened.

Because I’m aware it’s NOW, I force myself to breathe and calm down enough that I can get up and grab my orange yoga mat. I move out to my deck, surrounded by green trees and the little glimpses of the lake I can spot between the leafy green branches of the trees. Unrolling my mat, I plop down onto it. I pound my fists on it and cry, loudly. It’s not pretty tears, or sweet sad tears or even just depressed sad tears. It’s angry tears, panicked tears, overwhelmed tears. I breathe, in, out, in, out, in, out, and give myself permission to be angry sad. I few more breaths and I put on some soft music. Listening to my body, my mind, I start a free form yoga flow. I move that way for the better part of an hour, and then begin to work on a sequence I had been designing for hubby. 

Yoga brings me back to myself. It brings me back to the authentic, real version of myself, it helps me find the grown up me. I’m learning that I can use my resources to help stay in the window of tolerance, to be able to maintain functioning, and that doesn’t mean I am ignoring the nightmares or the bad stuff, it just means I am allowing myself to live my life. And that’s okay. It’s okay for me to be happy, and feel okay and safe. 

Later in the day, when my family is up, I make breakfast, and Kat and I send hubby off to work. Kat and I may or may not clean up a little, or head to the gym, but we always pack up to head to the beach later in the afternoon.

Afternoons are spent digging my toes into warm sand, walking across the silky cool grass, and swimming in the warm blue lake, jumping off the pier, and racing around the water slides. Kat and build sand castles, and I marvel at how the muddy wet sand feels sticky on my fingers. We swing and I think I swing so high I can touch puffy white clouds in the sky. We swim, diving down deep searching for seashells to add to our collection we keep on a jar on the kitchen table. When I’m not playing with Kat, she plays with the neighborhood kids, and I float on the water listening to the waves and watching the sun sparkle on the surface. Sometimes I swim and while I swim under water and hear nothing but the water around me, I can almost imagine what it might be like to be a mermaid living under the sea, and I feel very peaceful. 

This has become my typical morning and afternoon routine this summer. I learned this summer to slow things down throughout my day, so I could become grounded again. I’ve realized that I can really pay attention to the things around me, and I can focus on what I’m feeling, and what I’m thinking, I can really be more present and here. Overall, it’s been a very peaceful and calm summer.

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What if????

“So, how was the rest of the day on Thursday?” Bea asks me. We’ve talked about nothing major, and now she’s turning the conversation back to me, and my stuff. 

I’m sitting criss cross applesauce on the couch. Just before she asked this, I’d been looking at her, and talking like a normal person. Now, I look down. Why does answering something so simple embarrass me? “I don’t know…..I just…I was….” I shrug. The odd thing is, my answer is more positive than usual, but that scares me. I’m thinking about things differently, and that is this giant frightening thing. 

“I think it’s important that we touch base on how things felt, how the weekend was for you. Did things come up, were the nightmares of that particular memory gone, less, more? Did you feel more upset, less upset?” 

I shake my head. “I…I got sick this weekend. Sinus crap, headache, sore throat. So I was……I don’t know. The worst thing about being sick is you can’t do anything. I mean, there is no distractions. And tv, movies…those just don’t work. I mean, not like hubby. He can’t stand to turn a show off in the middle of it. But me, I don’t really care. I just, I don’t know. I can stop a movie half way through and not come back to it for weeks. So it’s not like being sick, watching tv…….it just….I don’t. I keep thinking.”

“TV doesn’t distract you, or occupy your mind very easily. It seems like a lot of the time when we don’t feel good, that is when our minds start going.” Bea states. 

“Yes, that’s….I was thinking. So I just…I was thinking.” 

“What were you thinking about?” 

“I…just stuff. I mean…Thursday, I was okay. It….I didn’t feel like hiding. I mean, like usually I would maybe want to go hide. And I didn’t feel like hiding. I was sad. But okay.” I stumble through trying to explain this to her, trying to get the words in my head, those perfectly put together and competent sounding words in my head to come out of my mouth and make sense. 

“That’s good. Okay is good.” Bea’s voice sounds like she is smiling. 

I nod. It is good. She’s right, it is good. 

“Do you want me to tell you what I thought on Thursday?” She asks. I nod my head, and so she continues. “I felt like you were more here than usual when discussing a memory. I felt like you were able to answer questions, and talk more easily. I mean, I know we didn’t talk about the actual rape, but everything with that memory is so awful, so traumatizing, and the mom stuff is big. It just feels like to me that this is one of the worst memories for so many reasons, so many layers of hurt. I mean, they are your memories, and they are all painful, and I don’t know if this memory feels worse than others to you, so maybe I shouldn’t say that. But it feels like this is a memory that took things to a whole different level. It made the traumas that much more hurtful. You really had to dissociate to be okay.” 

“It’s…it’s one that always….it just won’t go away. Even before…it’s been one of those nightmares that I’ve had a long time.” I take a drink of my vanilla chai, and peek at Bea from the corner of my eye. 

“So you felt okay on Thursday?” She brings me back to what we had been talking about. 

I nod. “Yeah. I was thinking…..I mean, I just you said something. And you’ve said it before I’m sure, but it just stuck with me this time. And I was thinking about that. I…..you were saying how I was afraid to get in trouble for………and how crazy that is.” 

“Well, people can’t hear things until they are ready to listen. And you are ready now, to hear that. So you were thinking how mind boggling that concept of being in trouble for being raped is?”

“Well….I was thinking about it. And then, my parents.” I pull my knees to my chest, and wrap my arms around them. 

“Your parents. Usually, you say your mom. This makes me wonder if you are including your dad in this? Because we don’t talk about him a lot.” 

“No….I mean, in general, yes. I was thinking about them in general, is all. And…well, you know. Thinking what if? What if they hadn’t needed perfect and I wasn’t so afraid of getting in trouble? Maybe I would have told. But…..I couldn’t get in trouble because then I wouldn’t be perfect and I have to be perfect for them to love me. Or what if they had done feelings? What if they hadn’t given me this message I was too much? What if I hadn’t felt so alone and unloveable? What is I hadn’t felt bad and not good enough and never perfect? What if they had been able to really see me? What if……i don’t know. I blame them sometimes.” I whisper the last part, feeling like this ungrateful brat of a daughter. 

“Well, yes. Of course a part of you blames them. Parents are supposed to protect their children, and they didn’t protect you. It’s okay to blame them, to be mad. It’s okay to feel that.” She sounds so calm, so sure of this, that it’s okay to blame them. It’s hard to listen to her and take that in. 

“But then I think….they were so young. And I….I was almost 30 when I had Kat, and it’s hard for me. Right? But they were 10 years younger. So, I mean….well. It’s just, they were young. And so much was not okay for them. She had an eating disorder. That didn’t just happen. Something wasn’t okay. So how can I blame them, when I get it?” 

“It can be both. You can understand it, and still blame them and be angry. That’s okay.” 

“I just…I needed a lot. And I must have known, somehow picked up on that. That I was too much for them.” I sigh, and squeeze my hands into fists, digging my nails into my palm. I feel so anxious and wrong to be talking about this. 

“I don’t believe you needed too much, or were too much. You were a child. We talk about parents and kids being a good fit. You and Kat, you are a good fit. But some people, they could have the easiest child in the world, and feel like they have a hard child. And others, they get a hard child and feel like it’s easy. It’s all about personality and fit. I’m not sure any child would have been a good fit for your mom at that age, with everything going on for her. She had her own stuff to deal with, right?” 

I nod. “Yes. I guess so. It’s just hard.” 

“I know. It is hard to hold both idea. But things aren’t black or white. They are grey. And grey is okay.” Bea loves grey. She sees the both sides and accepts that. She can recognize that my parents didn’t keep me safe and are to blame, and also that they had their own stuff and it’s not their fault. I don’t know how she can do that….I feel one way, but understand the reasonings, and they don’t match up. I don’t like grey, yet. Maybe this is progress though, to be able to discuss the black and white and actually hear the option for grey. 

“And I was thinking……” I drift off, unsure. 

After a moment Bea says, “Whatever you were thinking, it’s making it hard to stay here.” 

I nod, and we sit in quiet for a minute. 

“Are you having trouble finding words?” She asks me. 

I shake my head. “I have words….in my head….I just….” I drift off again, floating away. I’m afraid to say it, to make the thought real. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about this. 

“Is it a more of the memory? Or new things in this memory? Feelings?” Bea speaks softly, trying to find a place to start. 

“No….I…it’s…..” I pick at my fingers, and even though I can’t hurt myself like this with my nails done, the act is still slightly soothing. “It’s not even a big deal. I’m being….dumb.”

“I don’t think so. Anything that send you this far away is a big deal.” It helps to hear her say it is a big deal in her mind. It feels validating, comforting, but I still can’t say anything. When I don’t respond, Bea asks, “What can I do to help you feel safe right now?” 

I don’t know. I want to tell her that just the fact she is asking, willing to do something to help me feel safe, just that alone does help. But I can’t say the words, because something about them feels too vulnerable and scary. “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“Can I check in with the little girl? See how she felt about Thursday? I’d like to know if she felt listened to and supported. I want her to feel safe, too.” 

Her questions touch something in me, and I feel cared for. It’s sort of an uncomfortable feeling. “I….I think she feels better. It’s okay, I think.” The little girl wants to cry and say that she felt listened to and not alone and that she is so grateful to Bea for fixing things, for not letting the relationship be ruined and broken. I can’t let her say all that, though. It’s too much. 

“I’m glad. I’m so glad she talked to me last time, and that she is feeling a little bit better. She can talk whenever she wants to. I think it’s important that we check in with things after a session when we processed a memory. It’s good to compare now with how it was before, and to find a way to see if we are making progress. I think the way to do that is to compare how things are, where you are at.” Bea sounds…..I’m not sure the word, but it’s good. Maybe proud, or content…she sounds like she really feels glad that the little girl reached out and is feeling better.  

“Okay.” The word is a ghost of a whisper, barely there. I’m feeling overwhelmed with emotions and with my thoughts. I don’t like this progress talk. Does she want to get rid of me, is she trying to say I’m better and need to go away? Or does she think I’ve made no progress and she is mad at me, frusterated that I’m not making progress or doing things as quickly as I should be?

“I wonder if the little girl would like to color while we keep talking? If that would help or if that would feel bad?” 

I think about it for a minute and then slowly, quietly tell her that we can try it. Bea gets the little table and the coloring books and pencils, setting them all down between us. She picks up her page and starts to color. It takes me longer, but I finally lift my head and grab my picture. 

“We didn’t….I didn’t tell you….the actual…I mean…when he….what happened.” I’m trying to tell her that I didn’t tell her about the memory of the rape. “It’s not…I don’t…it’s spacey. I don’t know. But I didn’t tell you.” 

“That’s okay. It’s okay that you didn’t tell me. We talked about a lot of hard stuff last time. And we can keep talking, as long as you need to.” 

I select a yellow colored pencil, and start coloring a flower. I watch the yellow on the page, and surprisingly, as I focus on the flower being colored yellow, I start to feel less floaty. I stop coloring. I’m not sure I want to be more here. “I think….talking around it….what happened after….that was easier…..it’s…it was easier.” 

“Yes, I think so, too. I still think there is a lot of hurt and fear in the after, and it was hard work to talk about and start to process. But I do think talking around it is easier sometimes.” It feels good to hear that she doesn’t think the after of the memory is easy, or something to be brushed off. 

“I……maybe…not now, not today. But I might….the little girl…she maybe wants to tell what happened. During.” I’m afraid Bea is going to say no, that it’s too much to ask her to listen to what happened during, that I’m disgusting for wanting to talk about it. 

“She can tell me whatever she wants, when she is ready. Your window is getting bigger. They say as you process trauma, when you first start to, the window is very small, but as you go on, it gets bigger. That’s what the resourcing is all about. Being able to have a bigger window, and being able to come back if you get too pulled in. Because you have to be somewhat far away and uncomfortable, you have to be in the state you were in then to really access that memory, but we want to stay on the the edge, so you don’t get too pulled in. And it is a really powerful thing, to be able to control how far away you are, to be in control on coming back before you get retraumatized.” 

I think about that, about the experience I just had while coloring. Maybe I am able to be more in control of this than I thought, and maybe it’s not a dangerous thing. Maybe it’s okay. 

Bea says something about how she feels regret that I spent many sessions really deep in a memory and then hiding and feeling triggered and messed up when we first started working together. She says something about how where I am now is a better place for processing memories because I have so many more resources and can tolerate emotions better now. I don’t remember exactly how she said it, but it was kind. 

I shake my head, disagreeing slightly. “I think….I needed to tell someone. It didn’t matter if I talked or not, I was still hiding in my closet, hurting and scared and messy. Talking didn’t make things worse. I was already hurting. And at least with telling you, I wasn’t alone, and I had someone to talk to when I was in my closet scared. I never had that before. It wasn’t a bad thing. And I needed to talk. I couldn’t be alone with it all anymore.” 

She nods, thinking about my words. I can see her really listening, and hearing me. “You did need someone to hear you, you needed to know you weren’t alone anymore. You spent so much time, so very alone, isolated. I’m glad I was able to help you feel not alone.” 

“If you hadn’t let me talk….if you had made me work on resources….I wouldn’t be here. I’d have left. I wouldn’t have been able to be okay here.” 

“Hmmmm….you really needed to let those secrets out. Do you really think you would have left therapy though, if we had focused on resourcing first?” She sounds very curious, and maybe a little bit surprised. 

I nod my head. “Yeah, I do.” I want to explain that after the last few months of feeling like she didn’t want the little girl to talk, like she didn’t want to listen, that if I had felt that at the beginning of therapy, I would have left. Instead, when I met Bea, she was open and honest, authentic and real; everything about her said that she wanted to listen, to help, and that she cared. That is what I needed then. I needed to know someone wanted to be there. 

We talk about how things happen the way the need to, and that she had been what I needed then. She tells me that she thinks we are at the same place we would have been if she had insisted on focusing on resources and coping skills first. We talk about how I am allowed to talk about things already discussed, and how it’s okay to bring something up again and again. She says that now I can really start to process and work through it all. 

After that, we are both silent for a few minutes, focusing on our pictures. Bea suddenly sets her picture down, and looks at me. “Are you feeling as though I’m not listening to you because I’m coloring? Is that making it hard for you to say what you were thinking?” 

I shake my head. “No….you can color. That’s not…that’s not why it’s hard to talk right now.” It’s almost easier, in a way, because she isn’t looking at me when she is coloring. I just can’t get the words out. 

“Okay. I just wanted to be sure. Because I am listening, and I do want to hear what you have to say,” she says gently. 

“Okay.” I focus on coloring again, this time with a bright orange pencil. “I just…I can’t say it right now.” 

“That’s okay. We have lots of time. You’ll say it when you are ready.” She is so reassuring, so calm and confident that things will be okay. And, for the first time, I think I believe her. 

We wrap things up, and I tell her that maybe I will write it down, or talk about it on Thursday. She tells me she is listening, and here, whenever I’m ready.

When I’m in my car, I think about it. The idea, the thought just won’t stop running through my mind. I blame myself, I blame my parents, I’m hurt that no adult in my life noticed, but I can’t put any of the blame on him. Why is that? I’m afraid that if I let myself blame him, even a little bit, a massive amount of anger and rage and hurt and pain and tears will be unleashed. I’m afraid I will have to face the fact that I had no control, and that terrifies me. I think I will drown in the anger and hurt, and the loss of control will kill me. I can’t say the thought out loud because then it will be real, and I’ll have to examine it and wonder about it and talk about it. And I’m afraid Bea will be happy I’m thinking these things, thinking in this new way, and she will want me to face all of it. I can’t do it. I just can’t do. And still, I think, what if? What if I could put some of the blame on him? What if?  

Grounding solutions

to my fellow abuse survivors, as always, please read with caution. I have put triggering material in italics to the best of my knowledge.

Bea is talking, but I can’t hear her. Things are too hazy, I’m too far gone to really pay attention to what she is saying. Nothing is okay.

“I have no idea what we have been talking about the last twenty minutes,” I finally manage to say.

Bea looks at me, kindly. She has nothing but compassion on her face and I can barely stand it. “I know. That’s why we need to find grounding techniques that work for you. To help you stay in the present. So it’s not so easy for you to fall into your trauma memories.”

By this point, we have had this conversation many times, in session and in email. I know exactly what happens when we start with the grounding techniques, but I don’t have the words to explain why. Just the idea of starting to “ground” myself at this point is enough to raise my anxiety level. I don’t want to talk about why, I don’t want to say the words.

“Can you tell me what you are thinking?” Bea asks me.

I shake my head no. I don’t want to go there. I can’t say the words. It’s embarrassing. It seems silly.

We sit in silence for a few minutes. She seems comfortable with it. I struggle, picking at my fingers, starting at the floor, scooting back into the corner of the couch as far as possible. Finally, I say, “Ok. I can try to explain…….explain why grounding is scary.”

Bea nods, but she doesn’t say anything. Feeling really stupid, I tell her I think I want to turn around. Bea, being Bea, shows no judgement and simply says, “okay.”

I turn around, and then I start telling one memory of my relationship with my abusive ex-boyfriend. I decided to start with telling the end of the memory, as Bea and I had talked about before I fell down the rabbit hole.

I threw up. I couldn’t help it. Luckily I’m close enough to the tile lining the fireplace in the living room that I manage to turn my head and miss most of the carpet. He’s nice again because he’s proved his point, and so he cleans up the vomit and settles me on the couch with a blanket. He says he going to go get me soup and I mumble something that sounds incoherent to my ears about taking a shower. I could have left then. But I didn’t. He’s being nice again and I’m really confused. And no one can know. So I go to the bathroom. Bea remarks on how extremely confusing that had to be. She seems to understand, even now, how I can’t get it straight in my head.
I take a shower. A long shower. It’s as hot as I can stand it but I think I could boil myself in bleach water and I would still feel dirty. I’m so surprised when, during one of my pauses in telling this story, Bea starts talking and she understands this need to shower, this feeling of never ever getting clean again. I believed no one would ever understand this ever. And she really gets it.I use my room mates soap and shampoo because I ran out earlier in the week. Cucumber melon body wash. Bioloage shampoo. Two smells that still can make me sick. The water gets cold and I sit down. I’m freezing now but I feel stuck, like I can’t move. I got out eventually. Got dressed, put myself to bed. But I don’t remember that.
The very end of the story is he brought me vegetable noodle soup and a movie. A walk to remember. And he was nice. So nice, taking care of me like I was really sick. And I’m more confused. It’s like he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Where’s the switch so next time I can flip it back to the nice guy sooner? I don’t remember the movie. I haven’t watched it since, and I spent the night really zoned out, I’m counting down the hours until chem class in the morning. Then I can get out of here for a while.

It takes me a few minutes to collect myself, but I’m surprisingly okay. Of course, I know now that I was pretty dissociated while telling the story, but at the time I didn’t realize that. I managed to share the beginning and the middle of the story with Bea that day, and my grounding struggles began to makes sense to her.

Now, dear reader, some things my therapist was already aware of at this point that you aren’t aware of: I was raised in a very Christian home. I believed in waiting for sex or sexual acts until marriage. I had struggled, off and on, with eating disorders, self harm, OCD, and other behaviors prior to leaving for college. I had been dating the boyfriend for a while, and had made a mistake one night and had slept with him. Okay, now you are mostly up to speed.

My room mate is out. She was always out, even on school nights. My parents were paying the majority of the rent on our apartment because Lindsey was supposed to watch me. But she is hardly around, and I’m glad because we aren’t really friends. She’s a family friend, but that’s it. He comes over, like he does most nights. It hasn’t been very long since that first time we had sex. I don’t have a good timeline in my head for back then, so I don’t know how long. A few days, I think. We’re supposed to go out. Tap room has underage night tonight, and that’s the only night I can go. But first I want to talk. I need to explain that I can’t have sex again. That it was a mistake. That I believe God forgave me, and that I’m going to wait for marriage. He kisses me hello, and we move to the couch. We’re kissing on the couch now and I’m thinking that I should be talking to him but it can wait. But when he moves his hands from my hair down to my chest, I move them, pull back. I start talking. Explaining. I don’t remember what I said. I know it was stupid of me to tell him then. You don’t start making out with your boyfriend and then tell him that you can’t have sex again, that it was a mistake.

He argued with me. He told me that he would marry me one day, so it was ok. He told me that once you do it, it doesn’t matter anymore, you can’t just take it back. I argued back. He smacks me. That’s the first time. Open hand. Across my left cheek and eye. Holy cow, does that hurt. It’s out of nowhere. Why did I think this was going to end up ok? He’s so calm. Not yelling, but mad. Or something. Scary. He’s telling me I liked having sex with him, no good Christian boy is going to want me, I’m a slut. And I still don’t know to keep my mouth shut. I tell him that I didn’t like it. The next I know I’m falling of the couch, my head is hitting my coffee table. And then the next thing I remember is I’m on the other side of the coffee table and my clothes are piled next to me. He’s touching me there. Between my legs. He kept saying he would show me how much I did like it. That he would make me….I can’t say it…type it, write it. I just can’t. I just remember feeling cold and stuck in my head. It was like there was no way this was really happening. I didn’t even think to say “no” or to try to get away. I just laid there. He kept telling me what my body was doing, insisting that I liked it. I felt sick. Nauseas and cold and horrified at what he was saying my body was doing. And then his mouth, tongue between my legs. And then… I can’t say it. I didn’t really know what was happening until he told me. So he was right. It’s like those words are burned into my mind. I can hear it, hear his voice like he’s right here, “see. You are a little slut who likes it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have…..” And I just remember thinking he was right about me. And then I rolled over and threw up.

I tell Bea, then, after that first time, he realized that it upset me. It’s like he got some……pleasure from that. So he would hold me down, and do things, and list out what my body was doing. So I have this list in my head, and it’s everything from how I was breathing to if I moved. So you try to get me to focus on my body and all I can hear is his voice and it’s like I’m back there, just right back there in my nightmare again all over.

Bea, of course, understands. She tells me that this makes perfect sense. She says, “no wonder you have disconnected from your body,” as though I am normal.

We come up with things I can do for grounding. I can chew gum, but I discover that mints work better. I find that naming things I can see help me stay in the present. I find that while smells can help put me back in the present, they can be tricky because of my migraines, so mints and naming what I see and hear are the best techniques I have found.