Holiday therapy session

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.

  1. Ashana M said:

    This seems really brilliant as progress and insight. I wonder if what happened with the thought about the apartment is that it made it so confusing. It sounds like a peaceful house, like there was warmth there (unlike in your own home, which sounds pretty cold) and yet this terrible thing was also happening. Take care.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks. Yeah I think overall it’s good, though for this time it hasn’t helped much. You’re right about the apartment – my family was definitely cold, so the contrast was amazing, despite the bad parts.

  2. I found the book on line. It sounds interesting. Glad to hear that the grounding at the end of the session helped you. Go you.

    • Ellen said:

      This book is great, especially if you’re interested in the body based aspects of PTSD. I found his descriptions of PTSD caused physical changes to the nervous system really helpful. He does skip over the pain of healing – unless for his patients, there was not much pain? Hard to believe that. Thanks Ruth

      • Sometimes hard to describe what each patient will feel since each one experiences something different. Hugs.

  3. That book the body keeps the score is a brilliant book, I read it and really liked it. I’m glad Ron seems to be there for you and that you can let him in. Try new things is always good and maybe the grounding exercises and breathing will work for you, I hope so, XX

    • Ellen said:

      Glad you liked it as well Many. Not sure if the grounding will help – so far it hasn’t much, but it’s worth trying for a while. Thanks.

  4. The book is brilliant and I also like Laurel Parnell who addresses relational trauma quite beautifully. Have you thought about integrating another kind of therapy? I have individual yoga weekly and I love my instructors who are much like T’s without the talk. I’ve been doing classes 1-2x a day as well and it’s incredibly healing and connecting to be with others. It can be so emotional to move or just feel whatever I feel in my body. My T told me that I have all this stuff trapped and it needs some way to get out. That’s what VK’s book is all about, right?! Just a thought because I think with all your trauma that it has to be difficult for just one person to handle. And when life gets confusing and difficult it’s nice to know that you have lots of people to support you.

    • Ellen said:

      I will look up Laurel, thank you. I am definitely thinking of adding another therapy to this one. I’ve been researching both massage and yoga, as well as somatic therapy. I feel, like you, that a lot of this stuff is trapped in my body. The trick is releasing it without crashing completely or for too long. That is what VDK’s book addresses for sure. Just he leaves out the pain, IMO. It’s f’ing painful to heal, IMO, no matter what. Easy to forget when you get caught up in his optimism. You are a good example to me AG, with your different healing methods. It’s true, more than one support would be fantastic. Thank you.

      • It is painful but not as painful as the PTSD. I have been doing the yoga for over a year now. I had plenty of sessions in which I panicked or shut down. At first it was awful to have someone witness that and see me. But then I let go and let myself be nurtured and I was able to breathe and feel as it was already there and it would pass. Yoga really is amazing. My T is somatic as well and I still get frustrated with her asking me where and what I feel in my body or her telling me that I needed to move or shake it out.

        • Ellen said:

          It is all really already there – I always forget that. That all sounds really good. I am determined to try and find something like it. Cheers

  5. Cat said:

    That sounds an interesting book, I’ll have a look on Amazon. What stands out for me is how you had two, extremely opposite experiences in the same location. It’s so easy to forget the feelings/trauma is of the past. I always felt terrified of remembering my own trauma in detail, as if the memory could cause physical harm and the terror be just as real as the experience. Nice to read of your positivity with Ron

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, it’s very confusing that I have these two polar opposite emotions/ memories of that apartment. For me, the remembered terror is as real as the experience – the brain has encoded it that way. I want to turn it into a regular memory. Thanks Cat

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