I reestablished contact with my father 2 months ago for the first time in 3 years. It was sudden and unexpected, but uneventful. Or, as uneventful as something like this can be.
I visited my father, per his request, only a couple of weeks after we reestablished contact. It went fine. He was simply “showing me off” to his employees and colleagues and wanted to impress me. I’m not fooled by his attempts, but it’s typical for him.
Life just continued.
Christmas Eve. My father decided that he wanted to “hash out” some of what happened on the day that I told him I no longer wanted to have contact with him. I asked him why we needed to go over it, since all is said and done. He told me that he has a major problem with how I treated him. He said he couldn’t understand what he did that was so bad.
I didn’t, and don’t, have the courage to tell him.. or ask him… if he did what I think he did…or know he did? Do I know? Do I really?
“Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.” – Oscar Wilde
I just tried to appease him enough by telling him I was sensitive and the things he would say were too much for me to handle growing up. It was enough to end the conversation. Apparently it wasn’t enough to satisfy him for good.
“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.” -Criss Jami
Today, I received a text message from him saying that he wanted to “talk.” I had a very bad feeling about it, but I called him anyway.
He said we had a lot more to “hash out.” I asked him, why do we still need to go over the past 3 years? He said it was because he has such a big problem with the way I treated him. I explained that I had to do what was right for me at the time, and while I understand it may have been hurtful for him, it also wasn’t easy for me, but it was still the best way for me to figure out who I was, take care of myself, etc.
“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” -Malcom X
He didn’t like that answer. He just kept pestering me, asking me how I couldn’t feel the need to apologize. I told him that it was the right thing for me to do. He accused me of never telling him “why” I didn’t want to be in contact with him anymore. I did, partially, but he doesn’t remember. However I told him that I was terrified, because any time I say anything that he doesn’t agree with, it turns into an argument that ends in a screaming match.
He switched tactics. He said that it has become obvious to him that there is a major problem with how I was raised. A dig at my mother, but also telling me that he sees fault in who I am today. I told him, immediately, that if he is telling me that he sees a problem with who I am as a person today, I will end the conversation. He mentioned our old neighbor, who used to spank his children (quite often, quite hard), and how his children turned out so wonderful and that they must have been doing something right.
I told him that I will not continue to have someone in my life who keeps telling me that he finds something wrong with who I am today, because I feel more secure in who I am as a person than ever before, and that it was those 3 years apart that helped me define that. He told me how selfish that was and how selfish I was being. I said that I am not being selfish by taking care of myself when necessary, and he insisted I was. I “threatened” him that if the conversation continues the way it was going, I was going to go right back to not talking to him, because I don’t need a person like him in my life.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
He wanted to know why I didn’t “worship” him like my cousins worship their father, who is quite a mess. He wanted to know what he did that was so bad that he didn’t get the same treatment that they give their father. I asked him if he has any compassion for me, for the journey that I’ve gone through. He didn’t answer. He just said I’m unbelievable. He said I’m selfish. Several times.
I told him I can’t talk to him anymore.
“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.” ― Shannon L. Alder
No matter how strong I may have gotten, this still rips me to pieces. It still makes me question everything. It still makes me question my self worth, my value as a person, my character… all of it. And even worse, everything that he said, all of his questions, make me question the very basis upon which I’ve built the stronger me.
I feel like my whole self is a game of Jenga, and almost all of the pieces had been put into place. But now, I’ve suddenly had several key pieces removed, causing the whole structure to wobble and sway and threaten to collapse. I’ll get over it, of course. I always do.
And that’s the end of that. Forever this time.
“As you become your own advocate and your own steward, your life will beautifully transform.” – Miranda Barrett
I’m still in the middle of recovering from my knee surgery, which has gone much slower and has been much more painful than I expected. I ended up needing 2 weeks off of work – I just came back this week. I’m back in physical therapy again, which is very painful, however I am realizing that I seem to handle pain better than I realize. During that time, I also cancelled my appointment with new T. I cancelled because I truly could not make it..I was not in any shape to be up and about for the day we’d scheduled.
I’d left her a message saying that I needed to cancel the appointment because my recovery was taking longer than I thought and that I’d call when I was able to come again. When I did this, I was very well aware that I had the perfect out – to just never call her again, never come back, never go any deeper.
The entire three weeks since my previous session I thought a lot about not calling her back, but I also didn’t entirely decide not to go back, mainly because I’d given her my word that I would not just quit without talking about it with her. She asked me for my word that I’d talk about it with her prior to quitting, since I had told her that I’d ended very abruptly with old T.
She called me on Monday, more than a week after I’d left the message, to say that she got my message and apologize for not calling earlier. She said she hoped I was recovering well and that she wanted me to know that she was thinking about me. Given that it was so long since I called her, I was not only surprised that she called, but I was surprised that she cared enough to call. I don’t entirely trust and believe everything she said, since it seems counter intuitive (to me) that she’d waste her time thinking about me when she barely knows me.
She hadn’t asked for a call back and seemed surprised when I called her back nearly an hour later and asked to schedule an appointment.
I went in yesterday and rattled off some of how the past few weeks have been. I was embarrassingly sweaty, because I was not only a bit anxious, but the pain medication I’ve been on makes me unreasonably hot. We got to a point in the session where she asked if I had anything specific I wanted to talk about, so I dove in and told her that I was VERY tempted to never call her again but that I had told her I wouldn’t do that, so I didn’t.
She smiled and thanked me for telling her. She also thanked me for giving her another chance and for allowing us to talk about it, and for being brave enough to bring it up. I told her that it seemed like I didn’t want to come back because there was a part of me that just wanted to numb out and not delve into anything deep and not be vulnerable.
She asked me to pay attention to my breathing and what sort of feelings, sensations, etc., I was having when I was talking to her about coming back and being vulnerable. I told her that there was this sensation that a part of me was scurrying around, trying to find a place to hide. She asked, if that part had a voice, what would it say? I sat for a minute and told her that I didn’t know if I was comfortable sharing, so I wrote it down and held onto it. She then asked me to stay aware of my present self but to also go back in time and think of the very earliest time I could remember feeling that way.
This became quite hard for me. I haven’t even begun to tell her all of what happened in the past, so I did not feel comfortable explaining to her the first thing that popped into my head, which is something that involved my father. So, I told her the second thing that popped into my head, which was from kindergarten. A very benign memory that I could handle her knowing.
She asked me to try putting my hands on my chest as a sort of hug to that little girl in kindergarten, like wrapping her in a warm, safe blanket. When I first started, I felt very silly, but it didn’t take long before I started to feel quite emotional. I didn’t say anything, and I’m not sure I even expressed much in my face or body language, but she picked up on this. I couldn’t tell her why it was so emotional for me, though. I couldn’t tell her that it was because the little girl I was hugging felt so dirty and unsafe and wrong. So I just said that she wasn’t used to that.
I was shocked at the depth of emotion I felt, just by putting my hands on my chest and visualizing hugging that little girl. When new T started to talk about rocking her, stroking her hair, talking to her, it became too much. I nearly started to cry, but new T picked up on this and asked if that was too much, which it was, so she told me to just visualize having her sitting in my lap, which I was okay with.
We sort of gradually transitioned out of this. She asked if I noticed how much deeper my breathing had gotten. I felt a release in my chest and a sense of relaxation that I’m not used to. She told me that it’s hypervigilance that keeps my breathing so shallow all the time, although I told her that I didn’t think I did that because it seemed like I’d be aware of it. She just said that I may have done it for so long that it’s become a new normal and that I’ve become habituated to it. She asked if I could describe how the little girl was feeling after the exercise, and, shockingly both to me and to her (maybe not shocking, but she seemed pleasantly surprised), I said that she felt an okay with being open and vulnerable because she had a sense of safety. She seemed so happy at this and said that all she wants is for her to feel safe and cared for here. I’m not sure why but it was both a warm comment to hear, but also disconcerting, maybe even slightly triggering, just because I don’t know her well enough to believe her.
Throughout the session, she kept talking about, “…if you decide to come back…”. I told her at the end that I was glad I came, which was the truth. I appreciated her openness and willingness to let me stop if I wanted to. We scheduled a session for next week, and as I walked out the door, I handed her the piece of paper that held what the little girl is afraid of. It said, “I’m afraid you’ll hurt me.” Truer words have never been spoken.
I had another session with new T yesterday, and I left feeling hopeful about the possibility that we may be able to work together.
Every session, while I’m waiting for her to bring me back to her office, she has the receptionist give me a little sheet where I indicate on a scale how I’m feeling compared to last week and any change in symptoms, etc. I’m still having to get used to this. I don’t ever put much on it, but she’s never said anything about that.
I’ve been anxious this week because my mother will be moved in with me by the end of the week, I have surgery scheduled next week for my knee, I’m behind on work since I missed a couple of days recently and will be behind again, since I’ll be out several days next week for the surgery. I’m ready for surgery. It’s been six months since I hurt my knee, which has been six months of constant pain. It’s worn me down physically, mentally, and emotionally to the point where I just don’t have anything left in me. I almost can’t believe that I will ever be without pain in this knee, and I don’t have much faith that I will, but I’m hoping I’ll be proven wrong.
I talked to new T about this a bit and also brought up Father’s Day, which was difficult for many reasons, but especially because my father sent a scathing email to my mother, copying me on it, talking about all of the ways he’s been wronged. The title of the email was ‘Happy Father’s Day to me.’ And, as I explained to new T, I thought I was done with guilt over cutting off contact with him last October. I thought I’d come to terms with the decision I’d made and fully realized that it was the right one to make. But this other part of me still doesn’t want to hurt him just because it’s not in my nature to be hurtful. A different part believes that family is family for better or worse, and I should have just put up with him. And yet another, as always, believes that I have no reason for making the decision I did.
So all of this got pushed up to the surface again after getting that email from him. New T started to say that I never have to share more than I want to, and she’s not pressuring me into sharing anything before I’m ready and she does not believe that we have to delve into every detail of the past, but that it would help her understand if she had a better idea as to how my father was growing up. We established my ‘window of tolerance’ a couple weeks ago so that I can keep track of where I am emotionally. She does not believe that any good therapy can be done outside the ‘window’ so I told her that I didn’t think I could explain what he was like without going outside my window. She asked if he was verbally abusive and abusive in other ways, and I said yes. I was trying to think of a way to describe him without becoming horribly triggered, but I already was triggered.
I started to dissociate a bit, so I got quiet and stared at the ground. She asked what was going on for me right then, and I told her that I was trying not to dissociate. She asked me what kind of sensations I was noticing in my body and had me describe everything I was experiencing. Then she had me do a grounding exercise where I name 5 things I see, 4 things I hear, 3 things I feel, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I’m grateful for. By the time she walked me through the whole exercise, I was completely grounded again.
She told me about what kind of signals my brain was giving off when I was in that state and that some part of me felt like I was in danger, which is why I dissociated. She said that when I’m triggered like that, I get triggered into the past. I told her that I tend to think that I’m not in the past since I can, most of the time, consciously tell that I’m in the present. She told me that this was called dual awareness.
We did a couple other things before the end of the session, and she also suggested a couple of books to me that would be good reading while I’m out of commission after surgery. At the end, she asked if she’d freaked me out during the session.. probably because she showed me this very bizarre breathing technique (that she herself described as bizarre about 5 times before she actually showed it to me) and also because I got triggered as well. I told her no, and she responded that if she hadn’t freaked me out today then we should be able to work well together.
I actually left the session smiling and completely grounded. I’m not used to being totally grounded after dissociating in a session, so that was a refreshing experience. So, I do feel hopeful about this for the first time. Her approach is certainly different from old T’s, but she obviously has extensive knowledge of trauma, which helps me trust that she knows what she’s doing.
It’s probably a big ball of fun to read while I talk about my pelvic exam. 🙂 Be warned that there may be triggers about the exam and/or CSA.
I think the most positive thing that could be said about the exam is that I survived, which I suppose was a given. I reacted horribly, though. I somehow managed to sleep a few hours the night before. I even managed to stay calm while they took my blood pressure so perhaps they wouldn’t have a clue how terrified I was, however that plan was foiled as soon as I had to undress.
While I sat there, waiting on the exam table, I kept tearing up and my whole body was shaking with fear. I would’ve doubted the severity of my shaking if the paper on the table didn’t crinkle as I shook. I knew I was scared, but I honestly did not expect to end up a quivering mess. When the doctor and her nurse walked in, she asked how I was doing, and I just dove in and told her that she should know about my abuse, so I was terrified for the exam. My voice was raspy and I spit the words out quickly so I wouldn’t have a chance to hold back. I knew I needed to explain my reaction to all of this. She thanked me for telling her and said she’d go slow and tell me everything she was doing. As I laid there, I was still shaking and crying. She checked in with me several times throughout the exam to ask if I was OK. Of course, I wasn’t, not in the least, but I said I was just so we could get through it.
After she was done and they left the room, I lost it for a couple of minutes. When she walked back in to talk to me alone, she asked if I was dealing with the past abuse with my T (who is actually a friend of hers). I told her I was, so she asked if I felt like it was helping me. I just said it’s a process that’s taking a long time. So she attempted to engage in some chit-chat with me which was only mildly successful, but it’s not her fault whatsoever. I cried for half an hour after the appointment and ended up in tears several times throughout the rest of the day. I was so grateful that there wasn’t a need for anyone to have direct contact with me at physical therapy later that day, because I’m not sure I could have tolerated it.
I was slightly amused, though, after I looked online at my electronic medical record and saw that “anxiety disorder” had been added to my diagnoses, of which there are already several. Wonderful. I at least feel fortunate that I didn’t end up in a flashback. I didn’t even dissociate during the exam, although I honestly wish I had. I did end up dissociated for the rest of the day, though. After the fact, I feel completely embarrassed about my reaction, and although I try to put it into perspective, I’m having trouble. I just keep thinking that her and her nurse must think I’m a complete baby.
I’ve tried to think about where all of the tears came from. I didn’t have any memories, at least visual memories, crop up during the exam, and there was nothing distinct that was an obvious cause for my reaction. I finally realized today that it was my sense of disgust that was the trigger. It’s a gigantic trigger. I can feel that there were other triggers, but seeing as the exam itself is fuzzy in my mind (I wonder if I did dissociate), it’s hard to pinpoint those. But after the exam, looking at my own body became a trigger (granted, in some ways it already was, but this is a different one). The color of my socks became a trigger. Is it possible that I was truly that traumatized by the exam that I have new triggers now? My doctor was as kind and as gentle as she could be..there is nothing about it that seems to warrant my reaction.
When I asked my T if she thought I was overreacting, she said that there is no such thing as overreacting in this situation, there is just reacting. She said that I’ve only ever had that kind of experience in one other way, which was abusive, so my reaction is completely understandable. I asked her if it was crazy that I honestly feel traumatized from it, and she said that was understandable, too. I told her that part of me felt like I was going back home, going back to my father, and maybe it was that part that was shaking so badly. She said yes, and then also pointed out that the body remembers, too. She explained that it takes many experiences to allow the body to learn something different from what it’s always known. She asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing who my doctor is, and when I told her, she did acknowledge that she knows her. It was sweet, I thought, because she asked again if my doctor handled things OK and she had this look on her face that said she wouldn’t have hesitated to bring it up to her if she didn’t. I was touched.
She then said that I may not think of it this way, but this is yet another piece of evidence that something really did happen. I said that the thought had occurred to me but that, of course, I thought of how I could still be making it up. We both smiled, and I said, “Classic me! Any theories as to what my explanation is this time?” We both knew she wouldn’t venture down that road, so I told her that I’ve convinced myself, or a part of myself, that I forced myself into have those reactions. T said it would be a pretty amazing feat if I could do that. She said that there’s a reason why I put this off for years and why I even postponed my last appointment by a month just out of fear. That I wouldn’t have avoided it so hard for so long if there wasn’t a reason.
We sort of switched gears for a short while and talked about my father and how he’s been verbally abusive toward everyone, including his employees, since I cut off contact with him last October. I told T that I feel guilty because I am the reason he’s being so horrible to them. She said that he’s an adult and although me cutting off contact and his actions towards his employees coincide, it doesn’t mean I am responsible for his actions. But I told her that I am responsible – someone has to be, because he sure doesn’t take responsibility for his actions.
I got to a point where I was just sitting there, hating myself. T asked if I could turn the hate outward, and I said maybe just a sliver. I said that my father ruined my life and ruined me, and things that should be normal aren’t normal, like the exam. It should be normal, and it’s not. T sat with me for a minute and then quietly brought up the diagnosis of the anxiety disorder, since I’d told her about it earlier. We’ve never discussed a diagnosis for me, ever, although I’ve pretty much known what it would be. But my suspicions were confirmed when she said that my doctor was wrong in her diagnosis – that she should have put PTSD. I just cried a bit more and told her how messed up I am. But oddly, the timing was right for her to explicitly say what it is I’ve been dealing with. I can suspect all I want, but hearing it from her validates it all the more and allows me to try to accept all of my reactions, or lack thereof.
I wish I’d been able to feel more in her office; I wish I could have allowed myself to do that. Because sitting here with this grief is scary and lonely.
So I’ve had to deal with a lot of doctors and specialists in the past few weeks because of my injury to my knee, which in all honesty, isn’t that bad. I guess just bad enough to warrant physical therapy 3x a week. The first time I visited a doctor for my knee problem was the day I was injured. I’d like to say I was training for ice skating at the Winter Olympics, but I simply slipped on ice walking into work. Because I was at work, I’ve had Worker’s Comp covering everything, thank goodness.
Anyway, I was terrified that the doctor I went to (who was chosen for me by my employer) wouldn’t believe me and would dismiss my pain, which she essentially ended up doing. She said to come back in a week if the pain was the same or worse. I went back the next week because the pain was worse. She was nicer to me then and seemed to maybe believe me a bit more that I was still hurting. I had to wait nearly another week to see an orthopedist. He was a bit aloof but nice enough. No one told me much of anything. I’ve been told many times that that’s the case with Worker’s Comp, but how come the people who have told me that’s the case haven’t bothered to explain anything to me?
A few days after visiting the ortho, I went to my first physical therapy appointment and was tremendously relieved to see that it was a woman, although the obvious relief was a bit surprising to me. She was super – very nice and understanding and great at her job. My second visit to PT was this morning, and since I’d already had my assessment, I was set up with a male PT assistant. He’s middle-aged and very nice, but I was uncomfortable around him. I was nervous having to do some of the exercises around him and the gentleness that he handled my knee with wasn’t comforting – it was unsettling. I acted like normal, though, if not just a tad bit quieter than normal. I just wanted to get through the exercises and be done.
I’m nervous about my third appointment tomorrow afternoon. And I’m surprised at my reaction. I’ve dealt with male doctors before and typically haven’t had much of an issue and haven’t sensed any obvious uncomfortableness, but I definitely sensed it today. I don’t know what exactly was different. I’m terrified for my first pelvic exam tomorrow morning and am now deeply regretting that I didn’t at least mention this to my T last week so we could talk about some things I could do before, during, and after the exam.
This week I’m feeling like I’ve lost control of my body with all of these people touching me and doing things to me, even if they really are trying to help. I don’t know how I feel about all of this, either. Sometimes all I feel is just tremendous fear, but most of the time I’m not feeling anything at all. I’ve been dissociating a fair amount this week, too. If I can just get through tomorrow, I can see my T on Friday. But I still have about 2-3 weeks of physical therapy left that I need to get through. Hopefully it will get easier as I go along, not to mention less painful.
**Potential triggers for CSA**
I just need to type out what happened in the most recent session. I can’t concentrate with this all floating around in my head.
A few days ago, I woke up and felt depressed. It’s like it came in and crept up on me in the middle of the night. I have been in a funk since then. This was not helped by the fact that I had to cancel my original session time, which was yesterday, because something came up that I had to take care of. Having to wait an extra day is fine, but the thing that bothered me is that I was worried T was angry with me for cancelling – a worry that popped up based on how she sounded on the phone. Later that day, I ended up “partway” in a flashback, because anger is so triggering to me. I have been somewhat dissociative and spacey since then. As I explained to T, my car, being closed in and secure, felt like the safest place this week. The rest of the world is just too open.
I am unsure what triggered me in the session, but I sort of ended up in another flashback, although half of me still knew where I was. It started out just with the feelings of dread and fear coming up, followed by broken images. At the time, whenever I would talk, I was surprised that my voice sounded grown up. T was trying to help me get out of it and eventually did a sort of role-play with her “taking my father away.” She even left the room to do this, but by the time she came back, I was a ball of tears.
I said I was confused by the tears, which she inquired about. I explained that they didn’t feel like tears of relief. Rather, it reminded me of the tears I would shed after he would leave. T slowly let out her breath at this and said, “So we didn’t prevent it, he still ended up abusing you in a way?” I said that was extreme, but she asked if that’s how it felt, and I said it was. And it was. She said that she wanted her office to be a safe place for me and hated that today it wasn’t.
She also brought up what I shared with her last week, the secret I talked about in my last post, and asked if perhaps that was part of the reason why I kept getting pulled into the past. I was filled with even more self-hate at the thought that what she was saying was true, but I was still very dissociated and could only get out a few broken words. She told me to think about it, although she said that she didn’t think it caused what happened today (I’m not sure I believe her, although I have no reason not to).
Another thing that triggered me today, that normally doesn’t, is that my view of the door from where I normally sit is at the exact same angle of my childhood bedroom door, which I would stare at with dread when I’d hear my father come up the stairs as they creaked under his weight. So when I get pulled into the past when I’m in T’s office, I constantly look at the door, waiting for that moment. Today, at her suggestion, T and I moved to see if that helped, although I was still acutely aware of the door not matter where I sat. So she suggested I go open it and see that it just leads into the hallway and not my old house. I felt stupid, because I was “there” enough to know, rationally, that it would still just be her office, but when I opened the door and walked out, I felt something shift inside – a small moment of surprise – that it really was just her office.
We had to wrap up soon after that as the hour was almost up, and her other client had just walked through the door (T made sure I knew who it was when we heard the other door open). She offered to walk me out to my car, which was sweet of her. I probably looked extra wobbly between being very dissociated, shaking a bit, and the giant brace I have on my knee, which I’m still limping on. I said no, though. Mostly because it takes me a day and a half to get down the stairs.
It’s a few hours after the session now, and I’m fighting off the spaciness pretty unsuccessfully at this point. But I realized a cycle that I have when it comes to my self-hate. As I explained to T today, I always have to have a reason to hate myself. And this secret that I told her ensures that. It’s the safeguard. And just when I’d possibly understood and accepted why I have this horrible, secret wish, I had to find a new way to be punished, which was perhaps part of the reason the flashback held onto me for so long. I don’t know what triggered it, but it’s almost as if my unconscious then hung onto it for dear life.
I don’t know how to let go of the self-hate. I have no idea. All I want to right now, though, is curl into a ball and cry. I’m tired of being in pain.