Today in therapy I talked about how ‘shutting down’ is a huge issue for me. This is more than numbed feelings – I end up basically immobile, lying in bed mostly. Therapy causes that effect many times, more often than not. Also other things – exercise, yoga class, holiday stress like Christmas….It’s by no means special to therapy, but because I restrict my life quite a bit to cope, therapy is my most consistent trigger. I’m not sure I’m actually processing the bad feelings when this happens – I think it may be too severe, and I just go into this numb state, and then finally make it out again, only to have the same thing happen next time.
I’ve been reading Besel Van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score. He describes PTSD so exactly, and it’s validating to see it written out like this. He writes about how trauma memories are encoded differently, how they are processed as these fragments that come back in that fragmented form. And how your central nervous system is hijacked, so to speak – it’s changed. Instead of a normal resting baseline of arousal, with PTSD, you never relax and feel safe. He says you can either be in a hyper aroused state, which is an anxious, speedy state, or a hypo state, which is a slowed down state of arousal, complete with lowered blood pressure and slower breathing.
I mostly get into this hypo type slowed down state – freeze, or shut down. Though I have anxiety at other times. But in response to triggers, I most often freeze.
Van der Kolk recommends various body therapies to help stabilize the nervous system, before trying to process memories.
In therapy today, I explained these theories to Ron. He was interested. I did admit that VDK doesn’t seem to address the relationship piece of trauma – how with early trauma, trust goes out the window, and relationships can be very disturbed. I feel that Ron is helping me with that part – learning to trust, learning about relationships, and how to be there for other people. My ideas about relationships now are so different from what they were. However, I don’t think the PTSD piece of this is getting better. I think maybe I’m just getting triggered by therapy, but it’s not helping.
Ron listened to all this very seriously, and then asked me if I want him to adjust what he’s doing in therapy. What can you do? I ask. He says he can intervene if I seem to be getting overwhelmed (which he has never ever done), he can do breathing and grounding with me.
I’m surprised he’s interested in trying this. I agree. Then, as the session is half over, I want to talk about some of my holidays.
I talk about the family dinner, and what my family is like. I tell Ron my family is like a cult – they aren’t even allowed to think differently from my father. They don’t just have to do what he wants, they have to not have separate desires. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but my family has that flavour, where no one speaks their own truth.
Then I talk about my ex and son coming over on the 25th. And I make a slip of the tongue – I call my ex ‘M’ apparently. I don’t remember doing that, even right away when Ron asks me why I said ‘M’. I don’t believe him when he says it actually. Then I just say that M is someone important in my life but I don’t want to talk about it.
I talk some more about my Christmas, and have entirely forgotten this ‘M’ situation, when Ron interrupts me and says he thinks it might be important – who was M?
M was the name of the relative who abused me, I say quickly. Then I talk about a movie I just watched, which featured a Paris apartment, furnished in that old European style.That was the style of this relative’s apartment, I tell Ron. And I loved being there. I loved the way it looked, and I felt loved by these relatives. They were kind, they paid me attention, they were lovely. I mean….shouldn’t I hate being reminded of that apartment, when the abuse that I seem to remember was so awful?
They were kind to you….and M abused you, Ron says.
And at this point, I’m emotional, I want to cry….
It’s ten minutes to the end of session, so Ron says this might be a good time to do the breathing. Oh….I’m surprised. I’m really not feeling that bad….but OK.
So Ron has me feel my feet, breathe, feel my body. I actually feel more emotional doing this. He tells me the feelings are from the past, but I’m here, safe with him. He’s here too.
That makes a huge difference to me. In a way, I hadn’t been realizing that he’s here also, and it’s ‘the future’. I’m getting a bit more upset, so he has me look at him, instead of avoiding his gaze.
So I do feel grounded somewhat. I leave feeling quite together. I’m surprised I got so upset at just the mention of the abuse and thinking about the apartment. Maybe I hope it’s not true – that if I feel so positive about the apartment, maybe the abuse wasn’t that bad, or something.
At home, at first all is good. Then I end up needing to lie down for a while. I’m worried I’m going into shut down mode. But now I’ve gotten up, warmed up some dinner, and am watching a movie. I feel bad, but I’m moving around. That’s what I want. I need to process the abuse – make it real, so to speak, and to do that, I can’t shut down.
I’m hoping going really slowly in therapy is going to help me do that. I kind of think what happens in therapy is I panic. I don’t realize the feelings are from the past, and second, that Ron is there on my side. So I need to not panic, and I need to let him in, so I can feel his support.