I don’t know how to start this entry. I just wrote two paragraphs of completely pointless drivel that appears to have been designed to avoid getting to the point. It’s not that I found myself to be particularly upset at any juncture during the session that this post details, but there were so many gruesome words involved. I hated them being said, I’ll hate to type them. God. Why are matters pertaining to one’s reproductive organs so difficult to deal with? OK, so here I am talking about abuse, but I’m not sure using the terminology required would be much easier even if I was detailing consensual sexual behaviour.
The meeting started as they all do. He looks at me, I look at him in the hope that he’ll ask or tell me something, then I shift my glance to the safety of the floor. Except on this occasion, he said, “at this point, I usually ask you where you’d like to begin…”
He trailed off, and I made some mutterance of agreement.
“…and you usually seem a bit agitated and unsure…”
Flippin’ ‘eck, guv, you’re quick, ain’tcha?
“…and then we sit in silence for a bit…”
Fail, Pandora, fail fail fail…
“…and finally you end up completely berating yourself as being a ‘stupid time-wasting bitch’, if I’m not mistaken.” He rather drolly raised an eyebrow.
Well, that about sums it up C, yes. I nodded in agreement, and in his aforementioned time-honoured fashion, looked silently away.
Eventually, against his better judgment I think, he asked me how things had been in the fortnight since I’d last seen him.
I genuinely considered this for a few minutes, but in the end was surprised to report that things had been mostly fairly stable. I’m finding my trademark insomnia returning somewhat (thanks Quetiapine, you wonderful, dreadful drug), but beyond that I’ve been moderately sane.
“OK,” he said. “And how do you feel about things here – in the sense that we didn’t meet last week, won’t meet next week and so only have this one week together for now?”
Of course, the truthful answer to that was, “it fucking sucks, how dare you not prioritise me above your bloody personal life, you cruel bastard.” But I was hardly going to admit that to him, was I?
Shrug a bit, avoid his gaze. “I suppose it’s not ideal really – it’s a bit disjointed, isn’t it?” I stammered, finally.
He nodded, and admitted that that had been his feeling also. I suppose that begged the question in my mind of why we’d even bothered to have this ‘in-between’ session – but having said that, I was glad of it, as I am always so glad to see him after some sort of disruption in our shared little dance of therapeutic strangeness.
Perhaps my best bet in proceeding with this story is just to detail what I remember as it emerges from the tips of my fingers onto the page. I don’t remember why some things were brought up, and I don’t remember properly the order in which some conversations developed. So here we go…
I remember being pissed off about some stuff he’d brought up in the previous session. That is to say, I wasn’t pissed off particularly at the time of the session, but upon later consideration, I became so. The whole shite that I “played a tug of war” was especially irritating. I told him I felt that that analysis had been unreasonable and unfair.
He claimed that he hadn’t meant to suggest that I deliberately fight against him, but just that both sides can sometimes become defensive over some topics (in my experience, usually the competence or otherwise of the NHS).
To me, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference between a suggestion that I’m ‘fighting’ him and what he said, but I let it pass, and just looked at him.
It led to silence. He watched me. I watched him. Eventually I lost it with myself and said, “yes, you see I am a fucking time-wasting bitch, this exemplifies it!”
C asked if there were “alternative ways” of looking silences in therapy.
“Of course there are,” I spat. “It’s irrelevant, because I don’t and won’t think them to be true representations of it.”
“Still,” he insisted, “what are those alternatives?”
“One is that silence gives us time to reflect on recently discussed matters,” I started uncertainly. “A second is that it surely must be reflective of some psychological process, musn’t it?”
I noticed a smirk cross his face, and realised the potential connotations of what I’d just said.
“Did I just make a slight on your entire profession?” I asked, smiling sheepishly.
He laughed. “I suppose something can be read into silences though, don’t you think?”
I assume this was the part where I was on the verge of being accused of ‘withholding’, which is no doubt exactly what I was doing.
Silence, not speech. To withhold information is to deny its existence. Then it is not real, Pandora.
“Well, I don’t know, C,” I smiled. “I’m not the psychotherapist!”
He thought about that for a minute, but before he could respond, he was somewhat taken aback to see me laughing. He asked what it was that amused me so.
“The very notion of me as a psychotherapist,” I howled. “It’s utterly ludicrous. I’m so devoid of sympathy and empathy for people that I’d fuc the poor sods up even more!” Dreadful (though, I must confess, vaguely amusing) images of therapist-me landing into a pub blabbling all my clients’ secrets to the assembled punters danced happily through my visual consciousness.
I laughed on, then heard the sounds of my amusement rather quickly fading, as I realised the territory into which I’d just unwittingly walked. Empathy. C’s favourite subject. Specifically, my (alleged) need to empathise with and show compassion to myself.
I tried to avoid it. I said, “do you remember when we first met – I couldn’t have cared less if people were lying about the place dead or in pain, but if I saw a mere scratch on a car, I’d break down and bawl my eyes out for hours?”
He nodded in response.
“That’s projection, right?”
Don’t let her intellectualise…
“Well, whatever – I don’t think it’s as bad as it was,” I pronounced triumphantly. I exemplified by informing C that one of the cats had recently, for the first time, presented us with a dead mouse as a ‘present’.
“I didn’t end up cradling the mouse and weeping for its lost life,” I said smugly. “I was angry with the cat, but I didn’t lose it really; I just quite calmly asked A to dispose of the cadaver.”
“Um…OK..,” he said. “And in what way are you now able to demonstrate the sympathy or compassion you’d have previously had for the mouse?”
I can’t remember what way I reacted to this, but C stopped me before I could speak and said, “I suspect when I say that word [compassion] you’re thinking, ‘oh, for fuck’s sake’, aren’t you?”
“I certainly wince every time I hear it, yes.”
He nodded. “I really do think that developing self-compassion is a major necessity in our work.”
“I am trying,” I told him, thinking back to the discussion we’d had about a self-soothing book I’m reading. Or read. Or read a little bit of. Hmm…
I said, “my current reading material is Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, have you read it?”
“No,” he replied (to my surprise). “That’s the book about complex PTSD, right?”
“That was quite controversial when it was released, wasn’t it?”
Well, given that I wasn’t taking the most profound interest in psychiatry in 1991 when I was seven, C, it may not surprise you to learn that I don’t actually know. (Incidentally, a quick Google search does suggest some controversy upon the book’s publication, but I’ve yet to come across its exact nature).
My response was to say that Herman wrote from what I felt was a feminist perspective. “I know 1991 was a good few years after second-wave feminism,” I sighed, “but sadly that takes us into the era of what I believe to be a form of post-feminism, so I suppose yes – it could indeed have been rather controversial in that sense.”
(He seemed quite impressed with my crude knowledge of feminist chronologies.)
He asked how I was finding the book, and I said, simply, “good.”
I was perplexed to see C smiling at this (lack of) analysis. He kept smiling and looking at me, which although oddly nice in a way, kind of freaked me out at the same time.
I said, “why are you smiling at me like that, C?”
“Your perpetual detachment, your avoidance. There’s a lot of…relevant…material in that book, and rather than discuss that, you merely pronounce it to be ‘good’.”
“Oh, OK, I hadn’t realised you wanted the London Review of Books,” I sneered. “I’m reading the child abuse chapter at the minute. It’s like reading an autobiography penned by me. Do you see?”
And so it begins.
Subject shift, even if only subtly.
“You asked earlier if anything had happened since I last saw you,” I began, tentatively. “I forgot to mention some sort of somatic symptoms I’ve been experiencing. I haven’t experienced this kind of thing since I was a child – I don’t think I could have been more than about six the last time I remember it happening.”
“What sort of somatic symptoms?” he asked.
I stared at the floor and kept my mouth firmly shut.
“OK,” he said, reaching his arm out as if extending an olive branch, “stop me if this makes you too uncomfortable. These sensations – are they in your vagina?”
Wince. Why is that such a horrible, vile word?
“Sort of,” I began, quietly, unsure of myself. It’s a desperately uncomfortable sensation during which I feel like I need to go to the toilet, even though I don’t.”
“As in urinate?” he checked.
“It’s like I need to micturate, yes,” I confirmed. I briefly raised my eyes from their default floor-staring position, to see more accurately his innate response to the word ‘micturate’. He clearly wanted to laugh, but I’m not sure that a lesser reader of people than I would have spotted the tells indicating same. He is clearly skilled in hiding his body language when he wants to do so.
“So is the bad sensation in your entire groin area?” he probed some more.
Eyes dart back to the ground.
“Between my legs,” I replied quietly. “The entire vulval region.”
“And why do you think this is happening to you again now?” he asked gently.
“I think material that we have been covering in therapy during the last few weeks has reignited old physical memories and sensations that I experienced as a child,” I answered simply.
“I would think so,” he agreed. “I’m no anatomist, but it sounds like your muscles are tensing in that region and perhaps that has an impact on your bladder – maybe they press on it to some extent, leading to this sensation where you feel you need to go to the toilet.”
Nod. Look away.
I don’t remember exactly all of what he then said, but he talked a little about the abuse for a few minutes, a soliloquy in which he admitted that he had his suspicions that penetration was involved, contrary to what I had allowed myself to reveal in the beginning of our therapy (and frankly to myself also, at least until fairly recently).
I looked at the clock. About seven minutes remained.
He interpreted this as a sign of my desire to escape, but it was almost exactly the opposite. “If we’re going to get involved in a deep-and-meaningful on this, I need to feel we have a fair amount of time to do so,” I told him. He nodded understandingly.
Tension filled the room. He knew I was going to talk. I knew. But how much was I going to say? C seemed to literally be on the edge of his seat. He’d angled his entire body towards me and was looking at me quite intensely.
I didn’t feel anything. Nothing. I don’t remember what I looked at; I just kind of stared somewhere blankly as if I was seeking catatonia, or perhaps another dimension. I felt C’s eyes burning into me but I didn’t care. I felt nothing.
I said, quite clearly, calmly and coherently, “he raped me, again and again and again. He forced me to perform oral sex on him. He performed oral sex on me. He touched me in any number of inappropriate ways. It started when I was maybe about five and it went on regularly for several years.”
Still perched on the edge of his seat, still with his head angled demonstrably towards me, C looked me in the eye and said, rather definitely, “what an awful thing for you to have gone through.”
I nodded wistfully and lowered my eyes from his once more.
My memory becomes a little skewed here again. I don’t remember exactly the order in which what followed came, so I’ll try and follow it as I feels it flows.
We talked for a few minutes about how he felt making these admissions was “a big step,” as he put it. We agreed, though, that whilst it’s a good start, using words like ‘rape’ and suchlike don’t convey the physical agony, the terror and bewilderment, nor the psychological horror of the situation (as I tried to discuss here).
He shook his head at one point and said something like, “I myself can look for words here in these moments, but none seem to quite cut it.”
I asked for clarification on what he meant.
“I can say what you went through is ‘awful’ or ‘terrible’ – and it is – but there are no words that sort of even come close to describing how dreadful it must actually have been.”
For some reason, that comment touched me. He believed me, and he cared enough to think it was too bad to adequately be put into words. I don’t believe that there was any sudden change in my demeanor, but I was moved nevertheless.
“Thanks,” I finally murmured, only just audibly.
He said, “you look like you want to cry now.” He was actually correct, though I’m not sure if he was aware that it was more to do with his compassion towards my situation (he’s allowed to have it for me) than it was about the rapes.
I was well aware our time was all but up, so no tears were allowed to be forthcoming. I shook my head at him and eventually started muttering, “no, no, no,” over and over again.
He asked what it was about crying that I so feared.
In this case, it was nothing more than a pragmatic matter of logistics. “I can’t walk out of here in tears,” I said incredulously. “People will see!”
He seemed a bit mystified by that for some reason, but let it pass and instead asked what I planned to do for the rest of the day. He has been worried in recent weeks that exploring the abuse in therapy will fuck with my head out of therapy, and he wants me to engage in activities that minimise rumination on the matter in question.
I was concerned that he was concerned, and fervently sought to tell him that I was alright; however, he interrupted me and said that he actually wasn’t especially anxious, due to this being, again, “a very big step.” I think he knew that, perverse as the subject matter is, that I felt a sense of achievement in finally telling him what had happened. And he was right. I did.
By the time I finally left his office, he’d let me overrun by nearly 10 minutes, about which I was felt very warm and fuzzy inside. He told me to take care of myself as I left too, which is always a nice and considerably appreciated touch.
I really rather suspected that finally admitted the extent of the abuse would leave me a triggered, tattered mess of angst and mentalness between sessions, but I actually still feel really quite pleased with myself for admitting to how much went on, and I am pleased with his reaction of reassurance and gentleness.
The hard work is still to come. The first step is taken, but the hard work awaits. Will it be rushed and erratic? I hope not, but one thing of which I am certain is that it will be bloody horrific. But…I trust C, and I feel reassured by him. So my hope is that he can, somehow, guide me through the worst of it.
NB. I’m going to be in absentia for a few days – probably for the next week. Don’t call the men in white coats, lovelies, I haven’t disappeared to search for a suicide spot. I’m just having a few days away 🙂
Love ya lovely people x