Therapy – beginnings

Last time in therapy.

Talk about the book Ron lent me. Doesn’t go anywhere much. I tell him I identified the most with the man who suffers from catatonia, and is afraid he’s going to go into that state again. I’m not very articulate and don’t get to why this moved me.

I tell him I had a difficult dance class. I was super tired, because I’d had to work all day on site, and I’ve been sleeping very badly.

My main problem that week was the sleeping. I wake up every night after a few hours, feeling scared, blank, and so lonely I think I’ll die of it. Then if I do get back to sleep, I just float instead of sinking into sleep. I think of it as traumatic sleep – I don’t dream, I wake up blank and super alert, I’m awake really early and don’t feel tired at that point, but it hits me later. It’s like being super tense all the time, then suddenly not being able to cope with the stress of it.

So I force myself out to dance class, and my friend, who is the reason I’m taking the stupid class in the first place, tells me I look very tired. And I forget to take any meds to calm down, I’m so out of it. So I’m scared the whole class.

I tell Ron about this. I forget to tell the part that bothers me the most – I end up switched into the kid for parts of the lesson. Not a traumatized kid, but the sociable kid. It makes some sense, because the kid likes dancing. Theoretically, a five year old can do this stuff. And any chat required is basic, which the kid loves. So the things I say are all in this kid voice. I’m not that aware at the time, but when I get home I’m embarrassed. I suppose I switch when I’m exhausted – I lack the energy to hold things together.

I think the sleep problem is due to a traumatized part. So we work on the parts. One part says over and over that she doesn’t want to go home. I tell Ron about this. I sit there on his couch and try to find that part, let her speak. So she says her piece, she doesn’t want to go home. Why not, Ron says. What happens there? You know you don’t have to go there anymore. Do you like Ellen’s home?

But she has nothing further to say. She, or I, find Ron’s words reassuring somehow.

I do feel though that something is happening to me, sitting there and allowing this part to come forward. I feel scared, and I feel my legs tingling, which happens when a new part emerges sometimes. I remember things from our apartment in European country – the carpet, the toys.

I remember being punished one time. This is me remembering, I tell Ron, not the part. I remember I was outside, playing with my friends, very happy and excited. My mother calls me and my sister in for dinner. My sister goes in, but I don’t want to go. I’m having too much fun. Finally, our game ends and I rush home. My mother sends me to my room without dinner as punishment. I remember furiously kicking at the door of my room, crying. I am so angry. It was a favorite dinner of mine – potato pancakes.

That was a severe punishment, Ron says.

Yeah? I don’t know….

Can you imagine treating a child like that, who is five?

Maybe. Not now, but in the past. Well….I never withheld food from my child.

It was severe punishment, Ron insists.

Perhaps. It wasn’t abuse. For those times, I think it was pretty average actually.

I think about this afterwards for a long time. It disturbs me. What I find really troubling is that I’m remembering this angry child, kicking at the door of her room, from the outside only. I can’t remember being her. I can remember being the child who played outside, who was excited and happily rushing around. By the time I was punished though, I seem to be hovering outside of myself somehow.

  1. weareonebyruth said:

    That is a big chunk to remember. I agree with Ron, using food as punishment is a severe punishment. My mother also took food from me to punish me. It doesn’t happen to a lot of people. Getting adequate food is a big issue for me. I also understand you want to believe that it is no different than everyone else. Only it is different. Wanting to stay out side with your friends and play is a fairly normal kid thing to want to do. Sorry to hear that dance was hard. The kid probably enjoyed it. Have you considered the possibility that tiredness loosens your control that keeps the parts from emerging? Take care of all yourself,

    • Ellen said:

      I’m sorry that happened to you Ruth. I don’t think that was a common punishment for me actually. And I always remembered it, it didn’t get fragmented, so it wasn’t unbearable. Still rough I suppose though, as you say. Yes, the fatigue really does loosen my control, I know that for sure. Just a lot of the time, there’s nothing to be done about it, except stay home. Which is what I’ve mostly done. Dance is difficult, but also rewarding for me. Thanks Ruth

  2. Tilda said:

    It’s strange isn’t it, how therapists/others can listen to something and automatically see a wrong, whereas we have accepted it as ‘normal’ all our lives. I thought your experience was fairly ‘normal’, but thinking about it now, it was severe. Withholding food, love, care – it is just wrong. I think though, maybe we were forced to accept blame for abuse, so the punishments seemed right, and became normal.
    Your memory is sad, the little-girl-you sounds very alone outside the door, like you waking at night and being so lonely.
    Nights like that are horrible, and so exhausting.
    I hope you get some rest soon, and get some enjoyment from the dancing too. (what type of dancing is it?)

    • Ellen said:

      I believe I was raised too severely, overall. And kids do blame themselves. Maybe that memory is kind of a sign for how it was in general for me as a child, which I can’t remember that clearly. Not a good memory, and I don’t remember it ending, for instance my mother coming and comforting me. I guess I just cried myself to sleep. I hadn’t thought of it, but it could be a similar feeling to waking up lonely. I’m sorry you also have nights like this.

      I actually have enjoyed some of the dancing, to tell the truth. At first I was just kind of petrified, but now I’m more used to it, dancing with partners. I miss some of the turns, but it’s OK. It’s salsa. Nice warming music. Thank you Tilda.

  3. Yes, a very common theme…to still try and tell yourself the abuse “wasn’t so bad.”

    Imagine how freeing it would be to allow yourself to accept that you were, in fact, treated “that” badly?

    Imagine that maybe, just maybe, you really didn’t deserve it, didn’t overreact to it.

    Imagine that maybe what you are now is a very strong person who somehow fought her way through a disastrous upbringing and is courageously trying to heal and work through everything that was done to you.

    Imagine that.

    Maybe just letting yourself imagine it, at first, will eventually allow you to feel the truth of it.

    Yes, the world is a tough place and the kinds of vicious horrors that children are subjected to can be mind-boggling.

    Does this fact make your suffering any less?

    I personally didn’t go through exactly what you’ve been through, but I had (and sometimes still do have) tremendous anger at the stupidity and callousness of my family towards me, the way I was raised and how little love and affection was shown in my family. In fact, I have very limited relationships with them because of it.

    But I don’t care if I’m wrong about what I remember, or if “it wasn’t so bad.” It was for me. I felt it. I’m letting my memories hold water for me, if for nobody else.

    And now I have the self-respect to say that what happened to me was wrong on some fundamental level, maybe even evil on some fundamental level. Of course I also perpetuated that same fundamental wrongness as I got older and repeated the patterns I’d learned. Okay, shit happens.

    But still.

    Imagine if. Imagine if you really are worthy of the anger and pain and disappointment you feel about your past.

    • Ellen said:

      I haven’t known how to respond to this – your comment made me cry, twice actually. I love how you stand up for yourself and for me also. Thanks you. Even not showing love is wrong with young children, aside from abuse with a capital A. Thank you Aaron.

  4. Ashana M said:

    It must have been terribly lonely without any warmth in your family–and not much fun either.

    I agree–sending a child to bed without dinner was at some point pretty standard practice, although if you were five years old, I’m not sure why someone didn’t just pick you up and carry you inside if you didn’t come on your own. But I think maybe the point is more that you felt angry–as we often do when we are punished–and believed you couldn’t just be angry. You took a sort of emotional time-out from yourself to pound on the door. Maybe the abuse lies in treating you as a child in such a way that a normal emotional outburst was too terrifying to have, even though you didn’t actually have the self-control to stop it at that age: so, the abuse I think is the silent treatment you mentioned earlier, not withholding meals (although I wouldn’t do that either). What you’re remembering is the consequence of that abuse on your psyche.

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, it was lonely.

      That’s an interesting way of looking at it Ashana. It’s right on that normal emotional responses were too terrifying to have – hence the dissociation.

      Thanks for sharing your insight. Hope all is well in Burma.

  5. kp said:

    I am struck by the clarity of your childhood memory and the intensity of the feelings you experienced….somehow that feels hopeful to me; like you are moving back into your own life. Kim

  6. onebraveduck said:

    Not sure if I wrote about this before, but for almost my whole life I walked around with that empty, lonely, blank and scared feeling. It was like a heavy ache in my chest and sometimes it subsided a bit, but often it was huge, esp. at night. And then last summer, in conversation with Sharon, she said something transforming. She said that this emptiness was not mine, it belonged to my abuser, because after all he had to be empty of compassion and emotion in order to hurt a child. And that I had internalized that feeling. It was like a major lightning bolt went off in my head. I still have lonely or sad moments, and moments where I feel different, but nothing like that overwhelming, paralyzing emptiness that was there before. When it starts to overwhelm I repeat to myself “this is not mine, this is not mine” and then I comfort myself – with all the little things in my self-care box (fuzzy things, nice smelly things, things with a nice texture). Take care, C.

    • “he said that this emptiness was not mine, it belonged to my abuser, because after all he had to be empty of compassion and emotion in order to hurt a child. And that I had internalized that feeling.”

      That is a very truthful sentiment. Well said and well understood.

    • Ellen said:

      That’s an amazing insight you had Catherine, about those feelings ‘not being yours’. I also feel lonely and scared a lot, especially in the darkest night. Blankness for me is usually dissociation. I like your self-care methods – thanks for sharing with me.

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