Down on your knees
Begging us please
Praying that we don’t exist
~ We Exist, Arcade Fire
I’m not going to use proper paragraph structure here (i mean, as proper as i ever get, because i’m no English major), because i want to highlight the process.
Therapy sesh by phone today, of course. After checking each other’s health and ability to handle self-isolation (verdict: i’m a legit hermit, she’s currently the guru on the mountaintop), i opened with a request. I asked her to help me work through the possibility of putting this therapy on hold while my anxiety level is at Defcon4.
She answers that she is here for me, and to help me figure out how to have the life i want. She reiterates that she has no agenda, no opinion on what my life should look like. She’s told me this dozens of times before, but i need to hear it often, and it calms me like it always has.
I tell her i don’t think i have enough to handle both things; i was stretched too thin already. She asks me what is it about the therapy i’m doing at home that’s causing me to think about stopping for a while.
At first i say it’s because it’s too much to do both and i can’t stop a pandemic, so the therapy has got to go.
I go on to add that my level of function is very low, and my anxiety so high that i’m close to panic all the time.
She asks me how i’ve been caring for my body’s needs.
“When you ask your body what would help it feel safe, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?”
This always takes a minute. When consulting my system or my body, i always have to wade through the chatter, and consciously connect my brain to my physical body. My natural state is one of detachment from the body, which is not natural at all. I do a quick settling in: awareness of breathing, of where my body is touching other things, e.g. feet on floor, butt in chair, etc.
She gives me time for this, because she knows, and after about 3 I don’t knows, i get to,
“Well, i’ve been hiding in my room most mornings.”
She says, “Okay, good. Do that, then.”
I immediately come back with, “But i’m just lying in bed playing games and reading like a lump. Sometimes i’m here till noon.”
She tells me that’s okay. My instant and intense response tells me it’s not. I tell her how ashamed i am that i’m so low functioning and i don’t want to face my loved ones. I tell her even when i get up, i often stay in my pajamas and just watch telly and play games all day. Sometimes i can get supper on the table, sometimes i can shower, but there are days i can’t. Too many days for my liking.
She reminds me that healing from trauma is intensive and exhausting work. She says, “I know how hard this work is for you, because i know how badly you were hurt.”
“Can’t i just dissociate through this; just slide and switch until it’s over?”
“Of course you can. Is that what you want to do?”
“Well, no, but i’m tired of my life falling apart around me while i’m down the rabbit hole. AGAIN.”
I tell her i feel too heavy to move, and then quickly correct myself. I feel frozen, like i can’t move.
One of the ways i survived my childhood was the freeze response. My head separated from my body and i had no emotions (brain) and no sensations (body). It was like feigning death until the immediate threat was over.
My most common response to anything stressful these days is fleeing, but i still regularly experience what’s called tonic immobility. My body will shut down and i can’t move.
We go over what it is that i’m doing in therapy right now. I’m reconnecting my brain to my body. I’m learning to feel what i feel while knowing what i know. I’m turning my attention from my brain to my body, which carries (in some strange way i don’t exactly grasp) memories of the traumas i endured while my mother raised me. If i’m feeling sexually vulnerable or otherwise exposed, i put a pillow in my lap. When my throat aches and jaw feels broken i eat a popsicle. Sometimes i massage it with my fingers if i can handle touch.
While we’re discussing this, she brings up how difficult this work is for me to do, because i never received proper care. If i wasn’t being outright abused, any appearance of care from my abusers usually turned out to be selfishly driven and booby-trapped. Like a hug that turned into a fondle. I unraveled the lies they told me. Now i must dismantle… Dismantle what?**
I said, “I think i just wanted to stop the therapy because i’m ashamed that i’m such a mess. I think shame is my driving emotion.”
“H, shame is the body’s response to a lack of connection. It’s the body asking for connection. When we are connected to ourselves and to another, the body’s need has been heard and met and shame goes away.”
Yeah, go ahead and read it again. I asked her to repeat it a couple of times.
If i was connected to my body, and my body was hurt, i’d deal with the hurt myself, and get help from someone else if i needed it. I couldn’t as a child. There was no help. So i did what children do – disconnect and then blame themselves.
I’m a master of finding my fault in everything that goes wrong.
Heck, i’ll find fault and pick at myself when things go well.
In context this makes sense, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
She asked me if i’d ever experienced connection that deep with another person, the last session when she held me as i made noises that sounded like pure agony being pulled from the centre of my personhood.
“Nope. Not ever.”
“Stay in bed until noon. Wear your jammies all day. Play games and watch funny things and tell the guys to make their own supper. Cover yourself with a blanket. Surround yourself with pillows. Cuddle your dog. Eat salad AND candy. Hide. Protect. Check in to your body and give it care and safety. Give your body back the dignity that was taken from it by listening and providing care. Then shame will just go away because its work is done.
Emotions are never wrong. They’re too primitive to be anything but what they are. Feelings have no agenda, no faults or flaws, no plans for the future, no thoughts or personal agency. They just are.”*
Wanna know how much shame governs my life?
I’m ashamed of being so filled with shame.
As of today, i’m not anymore. Oh, i still carry a boatload of shame, that’s gonna take more work yet, but now i think i understand why.
And it makes sense to me.
And i am not ashamed of that at all.
I’m going to keep plugging along. It’s good that i’ve dialed things back and i’m not doing much. This is what my body is asking for.
I’m exhausted beyond words, but i can continue.
Part of me was looking for a good excuse to stop this work, even for a couple of weeks.
Because as much as it’s good for me to do it, and the results are what i’m looking for…
It hurts like fuck and i feel like shit most of the time.
Shame is my body’s response to the unmet need for connection.
Shame will be on board for some time yet.
I’ve received the message, and i’ll listen and give care, and return my body’s dignity, until i don’t feel shame anymore.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the COVID-19 pandemic, but i have a brief story to share.
I have a dark and twisty sense of humour, and it’s an integral part of my personality. A cornerstone of my ability to survive, even. Lately though, i haven’t found any of the current jokes going around about the virus, or people’s fear, or self-isolation funny at all.
I don’t begrudge anyone their jokes, but they amped up my anxiety, and added to my sadness, pulling me into an empathetic state for which i simply lack the spoons.
Last night i joked to my husband, “I can’t lose my marbles. The last place on earth i’d want to be right now is a locked down institution.”
When i relayed this to my therapist, as evidence that i am still progressing and working through things (more for myself than her – she clearly knows), she laughed.
“I can’t go crazy cuz the last place i’d wanna be right now is the psych ward. That’s funny.”
Babystepping away over here, folks. Carrying a lot of feelings/emotions along with me, and they can all stay as long as they need.
They just are, after all. They exist. We exist.
But I’d lose my heart
If I turned away from you
Daddy don’t turn away
You know that I’m so scared
But will you watch us drown?
You know we’re going nowhere
We know we’re young
And no shit we’re confused
But will you watch us drown?
What are you so afraid to lose?
*This is my best recollection, not her exact words.
**Perhaps i’m done dismantling. Maybe only mantling remains?