I was a psychological mess when I walked into my therapist’s office seven years ago. Barely in my body and just trying to keep myself alive. It felt as if I was literally standing behind myself, as if I was witnessing somebody else’s life from behind them. No longer able to suppress the memories of my past, I was driven by an insatiable need to tell him everything that I had kept secret for thirty years. At the same time, I wanted him to stop the memories from coming. Because I had buried everything so deep and vowed never to talk, I kept being shocked by what I said to him out loud. It was a paradox. I couldn’t believe that I was saying those words, but I also knew that what I was saying was true.
The first eighteen months of therapy was really about learning distress tolerance tools and safety. I was having memories but didn’t have the tools in place to deal with them in a non-threatening way. My therapist didn’t stop me from trying to recall the memories, but I wasn’t in a place to do the processing around them yet. When I had some solid tools, some rules around ignoring programming and a good support system in place, we began the memory-processing work. During those sessions, my emotions would sometimes get so intense that I felt as I would die from them. I would cry an ocean of tears in my therapist’s office, more than once begging to be somebody else with somebody else’s past, not mine.
I made a conscious decision not to research any details of my mental health diagnoses or any memories that were resurfacing. I didn’t want to put anything in my head that wasn’t already in there. I wanted my memories to be my own, pure, without any information from other sources. So we imposed a “puppies and kittens” rule. I wouldn’t read, watch tv, movies or research on the internet anything that could trigger my memories. It was difficult at first, and of course sometimes, I couldn’t resist a good thriller movie, but as far as specific research, I kept my end of the bargain.
Flash forward to one month ago. June 2016, seven years, 3 months since I walked into my therapist’s office. Last November I had felt that I fully recovered and processed the memories of my past. But I still had some unanswered questions about how I fit into the big picture. It felt as some pieces were missing from the middle of a jigsaw puzzle. I wasn’t missing memories, rather, explanations about how I fit into it all.
I came across a couple of lines in a book I was reading, that sparked a question to my therapist. After some discussion, he suggested I read a book that would explain the details I was looking for. I bought the 800-plus page book and read it in five days. I now saw how I fit into the big picture, who the players are and how these things could happen. Then I found a current podcast interview that answered more questions. I felt as if I was no longer telling a story, but that this was my life, my past. Last week, I read a biography that outlined all the horrific PTSD symptoms that I still have, and how trauma affects and changes a person.
For me, I find absolute comfort in the truth! Even though it’s disturbing, it’s still the truth. Until last week, in a state of panic, I looked at my therapist and said, “Can I live with the truth of my past?” He replied, calmly, with compassion, “You already are.”
Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph