Any time I have a therapy session, the whole week turns sort of introspective, and this week has been no exception. I’ve been thinking quite alot about Stuff. Those things we hide in our mental closets where no one can see them. It’s good to have some protection– I think most people keep at least *some* guard on their feelings so as not to break down on a total stranger. Still, keeping too tight a guard causes loads of problems in the present and future. Trust me on that one.
My concern is the Stuff that pops up out of nowhere. This morning I was awakened by an issue that happened quite some time ago. It *felt* fresh, though, and it literally woke me up. For a minute there I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get out of bed, as things were so intense I just wanted to cover my head and pretend I was still sleeping. It’s that old cliche about wishing you were in a nightmare and waiting impatiently to wake up. I’m actually (at least I think) rather good at shaking things off and getting on with it, but this particular situation has been a bit of a bugger and I find myself getting bogged down with it time and again.
I need strategies for things like this. I was talking to my best friend after my therapy session earlier this week, trying to dig up exactly *what* it is that seemed to be missing. The therapist and I have talked about some incredibly icky memories, and it has helped to bring that stuff to light. There are certain issues now that, when they creep up, go away when I close my eyes and listen to the therapist telling me that I’ve said it aloud now and released the memory. She has a very soothing voice, and I just play back that line in my mind like a mantra sometimes.
But, as I told my best friend, I feel like I need to *do* something to work through these things. It’s like we’re putting a plastic bandage over the wounds and not doing anything to change the effect when the bandage is removed. It’s like we never really allow the scabs to form. (Ok, anatomy references over– I used to work in health care.) After beating about the issues in my mind, I came to a startling conclusion. Talking about the memories isn’t enough. I actually have to *experience* the bloody emotions that come along with them. I can talk about some truly horrendous moments in my life without changing the expression on my face. Even if I *feel* all broken up inside, I can’t seem to show it on the outside.
And why am I telling this to an entire Internet full of people? Because these sorts of things are incredibly common to survivors of any sort of trauma. It’s easier to pretend it doesn’t feel bad. Lately (and somewhat begrudgingly) though, I’ve been trying to look at my Stuff as it actually was. Growing up in that environment was so terrifying– you never knew when the Bad Things were going to happen, so you simply stayed on guard and in fear all the time. This develops into what one of my dear friends calls Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop. As an adult, I still find myself waiting for the next bad thing to happen, and sometimes it seems like allowing bad things to happen alleviates the stress more than allowing peace. At least then the stress doesn’t keep building. This is completely contrary to logic, of course, but it’s something survivors should be aware of. ‘Better the devil you know,’ to quote the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood.
Emotions, then. Pesky little buggers, and insistent sometimes, too. My best friend and I got a laugh out of the fact that I seemed horrified about expressing emotion in front of a therapist. I kept reminding him that I don’t even know her! How can I trust someone I don’t know? 🙂 Even as I said it, it occurred to me that my reaction was slightly skewed.
I haven’t got a clue as to how to break down the barriers in this messy little situation. I’m not completely stoic anymore. My two best friends have seen me in tears a time or two, and I still feel bad for that. However it’s days like today that make me realise how– I’m not even sure of the word– healthy? healing? just letting someone close to me see how bad things feel would be. That old childhood lesson of how people can hurt you if they see you vulnerable comes back, though, and I fasten the mask a bit tighter.