This post refers to my meeting with Paul on 6 December 2010 (ie. last week’s session). I will catch up one of these days…just you wait and see!
***Guess what?! TRIGGER WARNINGS!!! YEAH! You knew it had to happen, dah-ah-ah-lings!***
***Seriously – there are references herein to sexual abuse (claro que sí), cutting (but not quite in the way you might think), sex in general (oooh!), psychological abuse (…) and threats of physical abuse (!). There are some graphic descriptions of these issues. Also, please be aware that there are shocking revelations within this post about our favourite bearded friend, Santa Claus. Tread carefully.***
“So, how’s your week been?”
It’s Paul’s perpetual opening line of the 50 minute merry-go-round that we share each week.
Sometimes it’s a frustrating question, but it’s a damn sight better than the mutual eye-locked silence that I shared with C most weeks. I used to hate that he would never allow himself to actively open proceedings, even though I had no idea what to say to the man.
I confessed to Paul that over the week since I had last seen him and, in fact, for several months now, I’ve been in a deep, unwavering depression. I told him that my mother – “that eminent psychiatric expert” – had decreed that I clearly needed an increase in my dosage of Venlafaxine.
Paul asked why she had reached this conclusion – did she believe that my illnesses were getting worse and if so, what was the regressing symptomatology?
“Aside from my low mood, I’ve been very irritable with her recently,” I confessed. ”She thinks that for a while, because I wasn’t snapping at her all the time, that I must have been ‘well’. Now that I have snapped at her a few times, she posits that I must be ill again and should duly receive an increase in my anti-depressant dosage.”
I paused, and sighed. ”It’s quite a simple analysis of the situation, isn’t it?
Paul smiled conspiratorially and said, “I was just thinking that I need to get my wife onto anti-depressants!”
We laughed, and he went on to say that my mother clearly has “quite limited parameters” of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. I defended her slightly – pointing out that I am (and had been) very depressed – but also noting that just jacking up medication doses each time this happens isn’t the answer. Obviously I can’t discuss the minutiae of the therapy with her, but I’ve tried to tell her that it triggers me – I mean, that’s the nature of the process. It’s not meant to be fucking fun. Furthermore, as I said to Paul, my mother seems unable to grasp that these things can run in cycles, regardless of how much or how little one is medicated. It is, regrettably, quite often the nature of having a depressive illness.
He asked me to what extent ‘They‘ and friends had been bothering me in the week since I’d last seen him. They had been a little more subdued than the previous week, but to use Paul’s term, they were still engaging in “low level grumbling”.
“Their insults range from something as innocuous – innocuous to them, that is – as ‘whore’, right up to full-blown sweary things,” I told him. I paused, briefly, considering their impact on my day-to-day existence.
“They’re just such an inconvenience,” I concluded, exasperated at the memories of their harassment. ”It’s so hard if you’re standing minding your own business in a shop or something and they just randomly start screaming insults at you. You have to try and look normal and not give in and end up talking to yourself, and it’s really difficult.”
“I went on a training course once,” Paul said, “and there was a hidden tape player in the room. You’d be sitting there talking to the person next to you about whatever, then suddenly these voices started sreeching out of nowhere, accusing you of all sorts. Even though we knew it was a simulation, it was still very, very disconcerting.”
“I can imagine,” I said, nodding thoughtfully. Then I considered the statement a little further, finding it to be utterly stupid. I don’t have to imagine! I already know what it’s like to be persecuted in this fashion!
Eventually he said that he felt that the “ground was becoming less secure” for me. ”We’re working hard here,” he noted.
“I think I’ve always accepted that things tend to get worse before they get better,” I replied. ”That’s a natural and necessary part of the process. But still – it’s not nice being depressed all the time.”
“And it’s not nice having to discuss some of the stuff you’re bringing into the room,” Paul said, finally taking cautious steps to kick-start the ‘proper,’ “let’s-talk-about-sexual-abuse” part of the session. ”Think of last week.”
“Hmm. That wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But then I don’t help myself, do I? I’m currently reading a book on Münchhausen Syndrome. As you’ve probably gathered, hat’s my new obsession. My new get-out clause.”
He asked, as he has asked before, if I would rather opine that I made all this shit up to draw attention to myself, or accept instead that I was “horrendously abused.”
I responded that the former was of course easier to deal with, but then noted that this was odd, from a selfish point of view (and one thing I most certainly am is selfish). Why would I want to lambast myself when I could hold others responsible and kick blame into their fat faces?
“I mean, I’m not exactly an exemplar of altruism,” I told him.
“Thinking of some of the stuff you discussed here last week,” Paul started, “I think I would rather have any other explanation for it than the simple truth.” He started talking about my having allegedly been gang raped and so on and so forth, yadda yadda yadda. He seems to remember a lot of little details (as well as larger ones, obviously) of what I’ve told him that he finds especially horrific. ”It’s a horrendous thing,” he eventually concluded. ”I would do anything to avoid having to admit that to myself.”
“Every time you say that, though, I keep thinking, ‘but it’s not that bad! It’s really not!’.”
“Why isn’t it?”
“I don’t think my life was in danger.”
“So this little girl [I wish he'd stop calling her that] could analyse like that in those circumstances?”
“Well, she was meant to be smart.”
“She was five. She’s hardly supposed to know what a man looks like at that age!”
I laughed lightly, then decided to admit something to him. I’m not sure why; was I trying to make my point that worse things could happen than that to which we had been referring? That mental abuse is (as, to be fair, he has previously acknowledged) often the most unsettling, most damaging form of childhood maltreatment? I don’t know, but whatever the case, I decided to tell him something that I had hitherto only admitted to A – and that had only come about thanks to the influence of half a bottle of Shiraz and several pints of Harp.
“There was something related to this incident [the gang rape] – one thing that I personally found more horrific than it itself,” I told him.
I noticed his eyebrow quiver in surprise that something could be worse, but he respectfully kept his mouth shut.
“If I recall correctly, it was all part of the same incident, but it was before…it was before it. They wanted to play hide and seek and they said…”
Here my skills of verbal articulation became utterly defective. I blundered, stammered and stuttered my way through, sounding like a complete twat in doing so.
“…they said if I wasn’t bright enough, or if I didn’t find a good enough hiding place – I don’t remember the specifics – they said if they found me, they would cut off my fingers.”
“Oh shit,” Paul replied, in quiet but palpable dismay.
“Obviously they didn’t,” I went on, wriggling my fingers in front of my face as if the point needed to be demonstrated, “but the threat of that…well, yeah, that wasn’t nice.”
“It’s horrendous,” he almost-gasped, to my surprise seeming slightly shell-shocked by my frank admission.
“In the end I was just given a scrape rather than anything particularly painful.” I examined my left thumb, noting a thin lateral indent. ”I’m not sure if that’s a scar, but it was this thumb that they scraped.”
I should note here that I keep referring to what ‘they’ did and how ‘they’ behaved. The finger incident, to the best of my recollection, only involved one person. It was not Paedo, perhaps surprisingly. I have no idea who it was though. I can sometimes see a tall, lanky figure in a white shirt in my mind’s eye – but there’s no face. There is never any face. Paedo excepted, no one ever has a face in this whole gang-rape-incident-saga. The finger thing happened at my grandfather’s house, which is part of the reason I think it’s associated with the gang rape, because the other abuse – ie. that from Paedo alone – was usually in and around his own premises. Additionally, I just have a nebulous instinct that the two were related. I can’t really quantify or rationalise it, but I believe my sense is accurate nevertheless.
“That must have been absolutely terrifying,” Paul said, shaking his head in something akin to horror. I nodded but said nothing.
“Absolutely terrifying,” he repeated, still shaking his head.
I told him about a book I had been reading called The Myth of Sanity, in which a client of the author experienced something very similar. Her experience was almost identical, in fact, except that the perpetrator who had threatened her with digital amputation had been her mother rather than a random. Her mother!
“I remember when I read that bit, I was utterly horrified; I could feel this sort of physical dismay all over me. But I had to remind myself that it happened to me too, and that that wasn’t really very nice.”
It wasn’t really very nice. How the fuck has Paul developed a sense of my being an intelligent human being when this is the epitome of my analysis of any given situation?! ’Nice’ is an absolutely horrible word, perhaps rather paradoxically. I need to stop using it. Doing so makes me want to punch myself in the face.
“So I think I remember that incident with more…I don’t know what the word is…it’s a more horrible thing to recall, even more so than…that other thing.”
Paul said, “Adam Philips, the author [of this, which Paul once recommended to me; I bought it but have yet to read it], once said that if one remained sane after those types of experiences, they would be insane.”
“That’s a good way of putting it,” I acknowledged.
There was a long silence during which I fixated my gaze on the hinge of the door. My ‘stare area’ changes every week – it ranges from the (wretched) phone, to some anonymous part of the carpet, to the peeling paint of the skirting board to the right of Paul’s chair. But it was the hinge’s turn this week.
When I was finally ready to re-engage with Paul, I was disgusted to find that I had been absent-mindedly holding the tip of my left thumb in between my teeth. In other words, I was sucking it.
Naturally, I castigated myself for this behaviour.
“I wondered if you were keeping it safe,” Paul suggested.
“Well, I’m sure doing that and admitting what I just did is no huge coincidence.”
“Indeed. But, you know, you always seem to have these critical checks going on. ’Oh, look – sucking my thumb. Shouldn’t do it.’ or ‘Playing with my hair. Must stop that.’ [We had briefly alluded earlier to my frequent but unconscious hair-playing in session]. All this constant monitoring. Critical monitoring.”
“I really don’t like any sort of regression into a childlike state,” I responded. ”I don’t want that stupid bitch taking over.”
“Oooh,” he hissed. ”Where was that from? That hurt.”
“She’s a pain in the arse!” I exclaimed defensively. I drew breath, and continued that I viewed “my child self” as very much being seen by me in the third person.
“‘She, her’,” he nodded. ”‘It‘, I’ve heard, when you’re feeling really pissed off.”
“It?” I laughed slightly maniacally. ”That is nasty!”
“I think anything’s nasty when it’s not ‘I’,” he retorted, smiling slightly self-satisfyingly.
“OK,” I began. ”I’m not suggesting for a second that I think that I have dissociative identity disorder [my use of this term made him chuckle for some reason], but it has come to be that there’s me – the person before you right now – and then this alternative personality, an alter. She’s very much a kid; she speaks like one, acts like one and so forth. She doesn’t take over my body [or rather, she hadn't at this juncture] in the way that happens in the likes of DID, but she clamours for space in my head and…”
He interrupted me. ”Can we move away from this talk of disorders and this world of diagnoses, please? [Oh brilliant, another one that demonises stuff that I find useful]. Can we find alternative ways of looking at it? A ‘disorder’ suggests that there’s something wrong with you. For me, coming out the other end of something unbearable isn’t a disorder. It’s a brilliant act of survival. The little girl [GRRRR] doesn’t need criticising for giving you a disorder; she needs congratulating for her brilliant piece of survival. Praise, not anger.”
“A few weeks ago,” I reminded him, “we discussed the reasons for my disdain of her. She gave me mental illnesses. That led to the loss of my job, it meant I couldn’t complete my Masters degree, and so on. I resent both of those things tremendously, particularly the latter. Who else is there to blame?!”
Pre-empting his inevitable response I added, “apart from the obvious.”
“Well, quite! I was going to say so,” he nodded.
“OK, but there’s plenty of other people who have been abused that lead perfectly normal lives.”
Paul contested this. He holds that someone who has been through “[my] level of abuse” (an “incredible” amount, apparently), particularly at the ages I experienced it, cannot lead an entirely normal life. He believes that such individuals, without adequate treatment anyhow, will always have some major difficulties.
I rhymed off a number of people who, despite suffering abuse of at least an equal level to my own, have been able to complete Masters degrees and hold down jobs.
“I’m not saying they’re all sane,” I admitted, “but at least they have managed to do something with their lives, even if they’re still suffering.”
“You’re compartmentalising everything,” he said. ”‘Here’s a diagnosis, let’s put it in that box. Here’s this person, let’s put him or her in that one…’ It doesn’t work like that. You’re all individuals…”
“I know, but…”
“…you’ve all got totally different ways of experiencing things. I wish we could move away from you having this ‘disorder’, and just think about you as a person.”
Bah humbug and fuck. Diagnoses FTW!
“I wish I could move away from making comparisons and drawing parallels,” I sighed. ”My mind just seems to automatically do it.”
“When you do that,” he said, “you’re basically saying, ‘I didn’t do as well as such-and-such’. And that in turn says that that little girl [I'm really going to deck you one here, Paul] didn’t do well. And then ‘I’ becomes ‘she’, or even ‘it’.”
“I called her a stupid bitch earlier,” I reminded him. ”Compared to some of the stuff I’ve called her on my blog, that’s quite mild.”
Of course he asked what I have called her here. I can’t be arsed going through the recent archives to back this up, but my reply was something like, “‘fucking hate this stupid fucking whore. Why can’t she just fuck off and leave me alone? Stupid cunt’.”
He noted that my derision of Aurora contained content similar to that which ‘They’ were/are subjecting me. ”It’s a primitive part of you that wants to lash out,” he observed. ”And there’s a lot of sexuality in the language. This is all about a five year old, which is incredible. Can a five year old even be a whore?”
“People who fuck five different people within a few seconds of each other may well be tarnished with the reputation of a whore, yes.” Duh-de-DUN! What a bitch. Handbags out, ladies!
I paused, considering the venomous nature of the foregoing statement and admitted that it had been “an absolutely ridiculous thing to say.”
“Uh-huh,” Paul said, almost in some sort of nonchalant chastising fashion. ”But it’s what you felt.”
“It wasn’t all like that though, I need to reiterate that. That was the only case where I can remember there being more than just him, and the abuse in general spanned about five years.”
He sighed and said, “I was recently contacted by a social worker who wanted assistance in helping a lady who’d witnessed an act of paedophilia. She was out walking her dog, and saw this man having sex with a young girl – it later turned out that she was only six. Of course the woman was horrified and went straight to the police; the bloke was caught and convicted, which was great. But the image of what he did haunts this poor woman. And it’s not even the rape of the child in itself, though that is obviously a big part of it. What haunts her most is the the child knew what she was doing. She thought it was just what happened in life.
“It reminded me of you,” he continued. ”I remember you saying, ‘it hurt, but not as much as it should have done’. I remember you stoically claiming that, ‘you get used to it’. But of course you had become used to it, hadn’t you, as the years went on and on. Your body learns to tolerate it. And you talk about the little whore – well, she knows how to have sex, so that is a just conclusion in your eyes.”
I squirmed uncomfortably and sort of spat out the words, “it’s just disgusting.”
“Yes it is,” he agreed.
After a long pause, I declared myself confused. ”After all this stopped, I didn’t sleep with anyone until I was 18 or 19. And then it hurt again. That doesn’t make sense. Biologically, there’s no reason for it to have been painful.”
He asked how “that first adult sexual experience” had been for me.
I said that I had done it reluctantly (though, it is important to note, not under duress). ”It was just something of an inconvenience that needed to be gotten out of the way, I suppose. I had this big apprehension regarding sex – unsurprisingly, I know – and the only way I could think of to get that to abate was to just get it over and done with.”
Paul laughed drolly. ”It doesn’t sound like the height of passion,” which made me smile a little.
“Can I use the word ‘psychosomatic’?” I asked, knowing that if I had simply said the word in question, he might have uttered that most profoundly evil of terms, ‘intellectualising’. However, permission was given for use of the Big Bad Word.
“It must be psychosomatic. It just doesn’t make any physical or biological sense to me.”
“It doesn’t have to,” he said, continuing thus: “I imagine that having sex reluctantly must have made a lot of connections with past experience.”
“I don’t recall it doing so consciously, but it makes sense I suppose.”
He asked what Aurora – not that he called her that, but I can’t bear to type out that other hateful term again – thought sex was “for”.
In asking the question, it was as if he’d summoned her. Not that she spoke verbally to him or anything, but she was suddenly very present in my mind. ”It’s something people do,” she said to me.
I relayed the response to Paul. ”Not that that’s particularly insightful,” I added, acerbically.
“Is it for pleasure?” Paul asked.
Her response wasn’t so instant this time, but she eventually said, “for other people’s.”
“And then, all those years later, when you’re engaged in your first adult sexual experience – it’s exactly the same,” Paul declared. ”Not rape, admittedly, but it was for someone else’s pleasure – not yours.”
Something in me snapped. I have absolutely no idea why – I don’t remember my first consensual sexual encounter with much fondness, but who does? I don’t somehow regret that it wasn’t like a scene taken out of a Bond film, or that that lack of excitement was caused by having been fucked as a brat. It just was. I don’t care. So the timing of this outburst was strange, but for whatever reason, my mind indeed chose that moment to fly into a fit of pique.
“I just have this urge to go and punch people,” I raged.
Paul was intrigued. ”Who are you angry with?” he asked.
“Him [Paedo], for a change. Normally I regard him with abject indifference, not anything like this. Though that said, this happened another time; I was just leaving here and this fury suddenly welled up inside me as I walked to the car, and I wanted to drive round to his house and batter his face in. It’s similar to how I feel now. But I’d better not do that.”
“It’s nice to think about it, though. And it’s nice to get angry with the right people too. This seems quite new. I think it’s positive to see it.”
“I keep seeing his face and one of the faceless others in that particular incident and I see me bashing said faces off the wall over there, beside the door.”
“What she wishes she’d have been able to do,” he offered. ”What would have happened if she’d gotten angry and tried to fight them?”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone down too well.”
“Well, if they threaten to cut off her fingers off for fun…”
I was, for some reason, reminded of the time I tried to chop off my foot in one of my grandfather’s outhouses, and I proceeded to tell Paul of the incident. ”For some reason I’m thinking about the finger thing – if that was them being ‘nice’, would my almost-attempt to amputate my foot that day have been realised if they were being nasty? Just a thought. Who knows.”
I paused, thinking how ridiculous the finger thing was. As if they would have actually chopped them off! How would they have explained that away to all the familial bystanders? Sure, they could have argued that I got caught in one of my grandfather’s various wood/pete/whatever cutting devices, but it would have been a short-lived lie: that kind of cut would have been rugged and uneven. Cutting my fingers off with a stanley knife would have been straight and fairly uniform, and it would therefore have been obvious that it could not have been an accident.
I didn’t start playing a forensic scientist to Paul, however, stating simply that “they would never actually have done it.”
“But a five year old girl doesn’t know that,” he responded immediately. ”Children are taught to believe what adults tell them; simple as. They believe in the tooth fairy, they believe in Santa. You can get them to believe anything.”
“Oooh, you’ve hit on something interesting there,” I noted with a sort of amused resentment. ”20 years later, I am still absolutely incensed with my mother for deceiving me about fucking Santa. I’m furious that I didn’t have the brains to work it out. I know that’s completely unrelated to our discussions, but I was just reminded of it. Sorry.”
“I think it’s very relevant actually,” he replied. ”You have all these adults around you who you trust, and basically they all betray that. Your uncle and related individuals do so directly; others do so by virtue of the fact that they didn’t realise what was happening, and thus failed to protect you. Your mother’s ‘deception’ over Santa is just another example of an adult deceiving and lying to you.”
He surprised me then by asking where the rage I’d expressed earlier had gone. When I said that I was ‘merely’ frustrated by that stage, he told me to “look” for the anger, but try as I might, it was determined to remain on the fringes of my mind by that point, and I couldn’t connect with it on cue.
“You pushed it down,” he mused. ”And that’s what the child did. If she hadn’t, the possibility was that she had her foot chopped off! But then the anger can become misplaced – you got to the point where you’re lying there, being raped, and you thought, ‘I’m letting this happen’. So it’s your fault, not his. And then we get into these allegations of being a whore.”
“There’s a strange irony here,” I said. ”If, at school, I was called a ‘dick’ or a ‘twat’ or a ‘fucker’ or whatever, I just stood there and took it. But if someone called me a ‘slag’ or a ‘whore’ or some analogous term, then I responded most vehemently. Yet here I am doing it to myself.”
“Why are you allowing yourself when you didn’t allow others?” A reasonable question.
“If I didn’t I’d be angry instead and twat myself round the face.” He didn’t really understand what I was saying, if I recall correctly, and in retrospect neither do I.
There was a long silence, and then he said, “I wonder what the child heard. You know – did he or they use these sorts of words to describe you?”
For some reason that sentence makes me feel nauseated as I type it, but I received it calmly at the time. ”I don’t recall him doing so. I don’t remember him ever speaking, but then I don’t remember a lot. In the incident where there was more than just him, I remember that they spoke – I think to each other – but I don’t remember what they said.”
I desperately fished around my memories for clues, but came up with only blanks. ”I just don’t remember,” I said regretfully, adding, though, that their use of those terms was quite possible.
After a very long pause he asked how I was, my amazingly insightful response being that I felt “a bit weird.” He requested further information as to the nature of “weird.”
“My head’s a bit fuzzy,” I said. Splendid, Pan. That’s as clear as the moon shining in a cloud-free night-fucking-sky. 10 out of fucking 10.
Eventually I proclaimed myself to be tired, as I often find myself when I am with Paul. I think it’s allied to dissociation, but on this occasion I hadn’t gone to bed until very late, so told him that my palpable exhaustion could perhaps be entirely attributable to that fact.
“I worked with a bloke a few years ago,” Paul began, “that had a very high rate of psychosis and some truly awful trauma in his youth. When we’d sit and start talking, as soon as we got close to the difficult stuff, he’d instantaneously fall asleep. It was absolutely genuine, and he’d wake up maybe two minutes later and say, ‘sorry, what was that?’ It happened five or six times a session.”
“Wow,” I said pointlessly.
“Humans are brilliant at finding ways of looking after themselves,” he said.
I responded by saying that in the long-run such mechanisms were self-defeating, but he said that even where that was true, that there was guidance in the behaviour.
“So what I mean is that, if you’re consistently feeling exhausted in session, maybe it’s not just about dissociation; maybe you’re being pushed too hard.”
“I think that the most intense stuff is the most valuable work, though,” I replied.
He acknowledged this, but said that as well as this tiredness, I was of course known to defend myself by use of analysis, intellectualising and so on. ”Nodding off” is simply further along this nefarious continuum. Yes, he stated, he felt that we need to break down such defence mechanisms – but we also need to take heed of them, and find a non-threatening way forward.
He pondered as to what the “non-threatening way forward” may be, and as he did, I couldn’t help but smile ruefully at the hideously distasteful reactionof my twisted mind.
“Go on,” Paul said. ”Tell me the response.”
“It’s a really, really, really nasty joke. I was going to tell you to bring in a stanley knife and tell me you’re going to cut off my fingers!”
I laughed. A sick joke, to be sure, but a darkly amusing one nevertheless. Isn’t it? Isn’t it? ISN’T IT?!!!
OK, it wasn’t funny, but you know how social decorum goes. People laugh politely when one makes an unfunny joke. Well, maybe not when it’s as distasteful as this one was. Whatever the case, Paul was certainly not heard to laugh.
Unamused as he was, though, he seemed to find the comment strangely worthwhile. ”That’s incredible,” he said, to my immense consternation. ”In that one remark, you’ve just really got in touch with how things were.”
“Yeah. Think about it. Here you are with an older man, who’s making you do things you don’t want to do, to think about things you don’t want to think about. You’re having to make yourself vulnerable to me. There’s hugely sexual imagery there, and your reaction to that is that I should cut off your fingers.”
“I take and agree with what you’re saying, but I don’t like the idea of equating you with him.” He later said that this was said with a very childlike expression. I can just imagine it: head bowed, shoulders cowering, eyes looking up pleadingly from under the protection of their brows. Fucking pathetic.
“But that’s going to happen in here. I know you know about transference, and that’s just the way it goes.
“Our task,” he went on, “is to find a healthy way, unlike the ways of the past, of becoming vulnerable.”
I winced, disgusted at the word ‘vulnerable’, and he laughed warmly. And then it was over for another week.
Paul is an unusual therapist to my mind. In one sense, he’s very classically Freudian. Everything means something and nothing is an accident. Symbolism and projection manifest in nearly every aspect of our everyday lives. On the other hand, psychoanalysis, in its purest form, involves very little input from the clinician in the sessions, which as you can see does not typify Paul in any way.
I have seen integrative approaches to psychotherapy criticised in places, mainly on academic or professional psychology blogs. I’ve never really felt comfortable with these sorts of criticisms, layperson as I may be, and I think my experiences with Paul reinforce that sense of uneasiness.
This is, by the nature of the provider in question, short-term therapy, and to that end I don’t believe that I’m going to come out of it in March or April being all-singing, all-dancing, shiny, happy, cheerful and sane. But I think Paul’s insight and practice is little short of remarkable, and in so being he has given me back something I’d completely given up on: a tiny spark of hope.