This post is continued from here. Please be aware of possible triggers for child sex abuse and related issues.
So, Paul had inadvertently reminded me of a recurring dream that I’ve had frequently throughout this year. Oddly, I haven’t had it much since I actually had this discussion with him, so maybe thrashing it out a bit helped aid it on its merry way. Whatever the case, I found its recurrence to be really strange – as I noted in my first post on this session, although I’ve always dreamt a lot, I have not been particularly partial to recurring dreams – and the subject matter of this one had perplexed me. I could understand if I’d started having frequent dreams about Paedo or something, but I didn’t. No, this dream was about Mike – my favourite teacher at school.
It basically ran thus. I had missed pretty much an entire year at school, yet rather than re-sit the year as would be sensible, I went back in May – having had absolutely no tuition in my chosen subjects whatsoever – to sit my exams, due to be at the end of that month and then into June. The sense of dread was so palpable I can still feel it; I knew there was no way I could pass, and I was dreadfully worried about turning up to Mike’s class, not having seen him for months. There was a sense of hideously foreboding terror as I walked to his room; not only was I going to fail, I was going to let him down by doing so and, furthermore, I already had let him down simply for not being there.
As far as I can recall, as far as the dream went, I never actually did get to Mike’s room nor sit the exams. It was about the build-up to doing so, and my worry about how I was going to try to turn things completely around within a matter of mere days. I remember my sense that I would need an utter fuckload of extra time from Mike, and how unreasonable it was of me to ask that of him, given my lack of responsibility in the situation. The dreams were so vivid that I could almost believe that I’d be transported back in time to an alternative world in which my 17/18 year-old self resided. Some thinking in theoretical physics posits that 11 dimensions (and therefore alternative universes) are at least a possibility, plus the recent results at Cern may, just may, eventually cause us to rethink the notion of time travel. If any of this is proven in my lifetime, I could well be convinced that these experiences, so compellingly real as they were, were not actually dreams.
Anyway, I am mad enough without trying to bring the weird world of science fiction into this blog. The point is the dreams felt as real as sitting here right now does, and I would wake up screaming to myself, “fuck, fuck, fuck, what am I going to do?” for 10, maybe more, minutes, before I realised that it had all been, yet again, a dream – and that I actually left school over nine years ago.
I shrugged at Paul. “What the hell is that about? A deep-seated fear of failure?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so – at least, not primarily. You were very fond of this teacher. Was that mutual?”
“Yes,” I answered. “It was mutual to the point that the others in the class regarded me as something of a teacher’s pet.”
“It’s about the relationship, then, isn’t it?” he opined. “I feel a sense that there’s something about ‘using’ this man to get him to do something he shouldn’t – in this case, provide hours and hours of catch-up time to you, at the expense of his own time and possibly that of others. I would even say, in that regard, that there’s maybe something in there about you taking on the role of an ‘abuser’.”
I shot him a puzzled glance. “Would it not be simpler just to think of it as some ‘father figure’ bullshit?”
“I’m sure that’s part of it,” he admitted, “but I’m struck by the issues of boundaries in your description of the dreams. Dare I say…[he cleared his throat embarrassingly]…was there some sort of sexual tension between you and [Mike]?”
I felt the colour drain from my face – partly because I felt appalled at the idea of any implied accusations of sexual misconduct against Mike, who was
usually* always a paragon of virtue – but more because Paul had just hit the nail on the fucking head. [* Mike was a bastion of black and sick humour, which was one of the reasons I liked him so much. I remember a couple of occasions on which, to my amused delight, he made statements aimed at me that could have been considered what I will politely term ‘innuendo’. One such occasion was so blatant that the girl sitting next to me turned to me, laughing in school-girl, goggle-eyed amazement, and suggested he was flirting with me. I feigned nonchalance. How could he not flirt with me, I joked, smiling devilishly back at her. I look back on that memory with a lot of fondness, but I must make clear that he would never, ever, ever, not in a hundred-million years, have acted upon any frisson between us. He was a good man, an honourable man. He just happened to have a wicked sense of humour.]
“Quite probably,” I murmured quietly, avoiding his gaze.
“Perhaps there was a sexual drive there, designed to encourage him to brake boundaries,” Paul suggested.
“That’s horrible!” I spat. I then promptly followed my outburst up with a resigned, “it’s horrible because it’s true.”
“But put it in context,” he said, a willed determination present in his voice.
“Fuck it, Paul – context or no context, that’s as manipulative as it gets.”
“But you were manipulated, then accused [by Paedo, whether overtly or otherwise] of being the manipulator.”
“So? It doesn’t give me carte blanche to go around manipulating others later in my life.” I laughed, but it was a hollow, despairing sound. “I can see this fucking neon sign flashing above my head screaming “BORDERLINE“, warning everyone away from me.” (Though as I noted I can no longer be diagnosed with that most iniquitous of ailments. “Not that it matters, though,” I added, “because as soon as it’s on file, it stays on file.”).
He looked at me sympathetically, but gestured for me to continue.
“Well. I probably did use my relationship with Mike to obtain certain…liberties. But, by the same token, I worked my fucking arse off for him. I worked very, very hard – by parsecs more than the others in the class [this is true]. So in that sense at least, he was…I don’t know, rewarded?”
“Mmm,” Paul agreed. “You see, in the real world, you’re not manipulative. The relationship was co-operative: he rewarded you, you rewarded him. It’s only when you get into the realms of the unconscious – such as dreams – that you become a manipulator, an abuser. It directly sums up your life, doesn’t it? In the real world, you were a monstrously abused child, devoid of any responsibility for the disgusting acts you suffered. But you were taught to absorb [Paedo’s] culpability, so you’ve always subconsciously believed you were to blame for pretty much anything that could have been construed as ‘bad’ in your life. Such thinking then comes out in things like these dreams, where your mind tries to convince itself that you are to blame, that you are nothing but a manipulative, slatternly, abusive bitch. And it just isn’t true.”
I sat in silence, strangely perturbed by his impassioned soliloquy of Pandora-defence.
In the absence of a response from me, Paul decided to continue. “I have this image of you as a young girl – an adolescent – standing beside this teacher thinking, ‘I could ruin this man’s life. I could seduce him and make him into a monster’.”
I had never thought of it like that. I didn’t not consider the seduction element, as discussed on the post I’d previously written on Mike, but to me it was just some silly teenage crush. Loads of school children have ‘things’ for their teachers, for fuck’s sake.
Uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking, I tried to deflect it slightly.
“When I was about 14, I used to follow him around like a puppy. I know it irritated him.”
“And what happened as you got older?”
I went to say that I didn’t follow him around like a puppy in my later years at school, but stopped short of doing so. It’s true – I didn’t do so. But when I thought about it, I didn’t do so because I didn’t have to. When I was in sixth form, I saw Mike for usually at least an hour a day anyhow. I also had another class two doors up from his room, so would frequently run into him after it was over and I had a free period, or was on lunch, or whatever. Quite often I’d end up in his room blathering to him about something or other for fairly extended periods of time – and at this stage, he distinctly wasn’t irritated by my presence. He would engage me in discourse about politics, existentialism, journalism, religion – all manner of social issues. Occasionally we’d even talk (shock! Horror!) about those weirdest of things that were our actual lives. Just as I enjoyed his company, he enjoyed mine.
“As you grew older, you grew more seductive,” Paul said in response to this, tilting his head in what I thought was a deliberately provocative manner. Not that he needed to be provocative in his mannerisms, because I felt that the statement itself was loaded enough.
“As I grew older,” I challenged through gritted teeth, “I became more intellectually engaging. Does it have to have to have anything to do with sex?! Yeah, there may have been a frisson. MAY. He would never have acted upon it, however. Never.”
“Of course not,” he acknowledged. “I’m just looking at the possible hidden dynamics of the relationship.”
As I said, it was a loaded hypothesis – but perhaps not an entirely unconsidered one. I heard a cynical laugh emanate from somewhere within my body. “It’s fucked,” I told him, “but it’s a slightly more orthodox version of sexuality than that to which I’d earlier been subjected.”
“In a way, but what is so troubling about it is not that you had a romantic interest in your teacher, or even that he may at some hypothetical level have reciprocated that. You’re walking around your school at the age of 14 with your interest in this man. For you, it wasn’t some typical school-girl crush; you had full knowledge of what you were capable of doing. It’s not this pubescent image of a little kiss, holding hands, blah blah. You knew where to put this, how to do that. You knew how to have sex, and you knew you could do with him it if presented with the opportunity, because, of course, you’d done it before.”
I wondered if Paul was not reading too much into this. Don’t all teenagers think about sex, readers? Don’t they know the mechanics of intercourse? I’m seriously asking. I don’t see any of that as being abnormal.
Indeed, A and I discussed this last weekend. A thinks Paul’s suppositions are utter bollocks – ie., he thinks – yes, teenagers fucking do think about sex, and its specific mechanics. It is possible that A and I are both perverted sexual deviants, I suppose, but I have yet to see meaningful evidence of such an idea.
So, I asked Paul was sexual ideation not a common teenage mental passtime. “Not with the refinement of knowledge that you had,” he insisted.
“Vile, isn’t it?” he went on, staring into space in a way that I can only describe as wistfully non-wistful (yep, I’m sure that epically successful summary conjures up a clear and informative image of his expression in your head). “So vile that you were so different at 14 – but not just at 14. At five. How many five year old girls even know what a penis looks like?”
Well, I’m hardly some socio-sexual research analyst so am therefore unqualified to speculate on the point, but my first instinctive, inner reaction had been, “all of them.” I laughed nervously at the ridiculousness of the notion. “I suppose that shows you the stoicism that after a while comes to permeate this…this kind of thing.”
He nodded. “And, to me, that’s largely where the trauma of the abuse comes in. The physical stuff is horrid, but it heals. If the abuse hadn’t become normalised for you, if you’d somehow been protected from it continuing, then much of the psychological damage that resulted from it all may not have developed.”
I sighed deeply. “You see, I can tell myself that it’s all fiiiine, because after all, it’s only Münchhausen Syndrome, False Memory Syndrome or bare-faced, over-imaginative lies. But then I’m told that positions I deemed entirely appropriate for all young people to hold are in fact uncommon, and I suppose if that’s true then it drives the whole thing home – it is entirely believable, probably because it’s true.”
“Yes,” Paul replied. “It’s easier to think you’re just mad, isn’t it?”
But I am mad. Why is so impossible for him to accept that one can be both mad and an abuse victim?
Rather than confront him with that, though, I merely stated that should my history with Paedo ‘come out’ to the entire world, that that is certainly how the entire world would see me. Few people believe that Paedo is even remotely capable of anything even coming close to what he really is capable of, and since I’m mental anyway, it would be conveniently explained away by my alleged delusional thinking or some such. In that way at least, Paul is right.
He smiled amiably. “Well, at least one person believes you!”
“That’s a good start.”
For some reason, the discussion moved back to Christine, and how I don’t talk in any detail to her about the abuse. To my mind, this is entirely appropriate; she’s there to support me in terms of my everyday living, so far as I can tell. There is no reason to dredge up reams and reams of long-past bollocks when that is what Paul is meant to help me with.
He, though, wondered if she and NewVCB “shy away” from the subject. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t, but to the best of my knowledge, qualified as they both are, they are not trained psychotherapists.
“Still, though,” I ventured, “does it somehow offend them or scare them? If so, why? I mean, it was me that had to live through it!”
I paused, reflected on the comment, then felt like the bitch to rule all bitches. “God, that was a dreadful thing to say,” I moaned. “I actually really like them both, and do believe they want to help me.”
“But it isn’t about them,” Paul insisted. “There’s a part of you that carries what happened with her at all times [fucking Aurora], and it’s that part speaking: you’re rightfully pissed off, and sometimes that just comes out. I don’t think you’re angry with anyone specific – except, perhaps, for the obvious.”
He paused dramatically for a second, wearing a thoughtfully perturbed expression. Just as I was about to ask him what was wrong, he continued, “you know, when you stutter and stammer over words in here, I can’t help but see these hideous images of you choking on him.”
This shocked me to my core. Does he really see that?! What a truly terrible thing for him to experience indeed. What a complete fucking cunt I must be for even allowing such evil into his head. I said so, adding that I didn’t understand how trauma therapists could do their job without going off their heads themselves.
“I know there’s supervision and whatnot, but it must be at best challenging to have to listen to – to have to see – this kind of stuff all day long.”
He made a gesture dismissing my concern. “I think that what you said about having to live through it rings true – I didn’t have to do that, did I? [Well, I don’t know. Maybe you did, and you wanted to help others in this predicament? I don’t exactly know your life story]. If I can’t hold some of the toxicity, what chance do you have?!”
He said, “look, Pandora. I don’t get my fingers burnt in these situations. Yeah, it’s fucking nasty, but I don’t. I hope that in that way the toxicity of this can be somehow contained for you.”
‘Contained’. My favourite fucking word. “I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was 14!” I exclaimed, hopeless and incredulous all at once. Paul me regarded me with a sympathetic but nonetheless searching expression.
“FUCK!” I eventually screamed into the air, at a random, ethereal, non-existent persona. “FUCK!”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he enquired as to what exactly I was shouting at.
“Just….FUCK! FUCK FUCK FUCK!”
Both of his eyebrows quivered minutely, but my God – he was clever and subtle about it. He composed himself more quickly than anyone else that I have ever seen in a similarly ridiculous siutation. In those few minuscule seconds, he diffused my sudden and quite frankly inexplicable ire, and I appreciated this fallacious, yet remarkably calming, tolerance, however bogus it may have been.
“It’s interesting,” I murmured, affecting indifference.
Paul tilted his head. “Tell me how,” he coaxed.
“I’ve spent – what? 10, 12 years? thinking that therapy was a right load of old bollocks. But now, I’ve met you – and things have changed. It does work. I feel better – or, at least, I feel that I’m worthy of being understood. Why is that? Why – how – does therapy actually work?!”
[I deliberately resisted the urge to tread into neuro-psychiatric territory at this juncture. Paul is an anti-psychiatry type, and sometimes I feel too old and decrepit (the fact that I’m only fucking 28 notwithstanding!) to try and defend a position that contradicts that of others. Previous discussions about Paul should exemplify this well.]
He shrugged with amusement. “If you find out,” he smiled, “will you please let me know?!”
I returned the smile, but he must have seen something regretful in my facial expression. “OK,” he started, after several minutes of study of my rather forlorn face. “There’s more for you to say here. Cough up.”
“This therapy is ending soon,” I said, again with feigned nonchalance.
“Yes,” he said, expressionlessly.
“Do you think that I think you’re abandoning me?” I queried, disgusted at the borderline implications of the question.
“Do you?” he batted back – to my considerable annoyance. Why is it so bloody hard for people to answer a simple sodding question?!
“No,” I declared definitively. “However, plenty of others appear to hold that view.”
He asked me what I meant, and I explained that both Christine and NewVCB had postulated the premise that because the therapy at Nexus was time-limited, that I would going to feel “abandoned” and “rejected” when the relationship between Paul and I was no more.
“I don’t,” I pressed. “I truly don’t feel that. My issue with short-term therapy is that two decades of mental illness cannot be reversed in six months. It’s a rational, pragmatic objection – not some borderline freakery, like seems to be generally assumed.”
“I’ve said to you before,” Paul began, “that in an ideal world we’d seen each other for at least two years.”
“I know. But you’ve always been so straight-up about the time-frame that we are afforded here, and thanks to your candour, I’ve been able to accept that. But that bloody word ‘borderline’ denotes to all and fucking sundry that any rational objection I have must be related to an abandonment complex.”
Paul was about to respond, but I felt I’d overstepped the mark a little. Yes, NewVCB and Christine were concerned about my feeling “abandoned”, obviously a central tenet of the borderline personality. However, in fairness to both of them, the key word here was “concerned”. They cared; they didn’t, and don’t, condemn.
Nevertheless. “It’s not about abandonment,” I complained. [The lady doth protest too much? I don’t think so, but I’m sure there are those that do.]
“Of course not,” Paul responded, perhaps too appeasingly. “Throughout your life, you’ve been subjected to a string of dysfunctional attachments. Here, in this room, there is, I hope, an attachment – but of a different kind. It’s secure and non-abusive. You’re entirely accepted here. Yes, you’re leaving in a few weeks – but, I hope, you’re going to take that security with you. I’m here in the background; the experience of our relationship is still there.”
He paused, then – more deliberately than I might have liked – added that all relationships come to an end. “It’s about how it’s handled,” he said.
“Of course,” I nodded, in all sincerity. I thought back to the mess that was the conclusion of my time with C, and chuckled cynically. “I can’t help but think back to how poorly this was managed in my NHS therapy…but I know it shouldn’t, and doesn’t have to be, that way.”
Paul made some caustic anti-NHS-therapy comment that I wish I could recall.
“It genuinely wasn’t my fault,” I commented, with a surprisingly defensive tone. “It wasn’t entirely the psychologist’s either – it was more to do with the appalling mess of bureaucracy to which most NHS workers are sadly subjected.
“My psychiatrist has actually been really supportive,” I added. “Yet she and my CPN are still concerned about this abandonment bullshit. I don’t get it. Just because my NHS therapy – as a result of the utter fuckwittery of the Trust – ended badly, it doesn’t mean that I am a demanding twat, and that all therapy I might ever have will go tits up.”
“What do you actually think about endings in therapeutic relationships?” Paul boldly asked me.
I could have given a 4,000 word response, because I’ve bloody read enough into the subject. Instead, I gave him a simple – but accurate – analysis: “no one is in therapy forever. That’s exactly the point of it: it’s not meant to be permanent. If endings are handled well, that exemplifies to me what one is meant to do with the relationship.”
Paul smiled. “You’re right on the mark, girl,” he said. “Right on the mark. Do you think we can achieve a satisfactory ending to this relationship together?”
“Of course I do,” I nodded. “Would I like it to be longer? Of course I would. But do I accept that it’s not going to be? Of course in duplicate. To me, it’s about how it’s handled, and how well it’s been handled. And I think it’s been, and is being, handled well.”
He smiled at me. “I previously suggested that after this is all over, that you come back again after a few months have elapsed, ” he said. “I do hope you do so, Pan. “But if you don’t, I have every faith in you anyway.”