My Next Assignment in Therapy

Long ago, I walked into the apartment of a cruel man and allowed him to spend the night using and abusing me. The memory of that night has literally haunted me for years. I interpreted the fact that I was an adult and that I could have prevented the experience as proof that I was dirty, disgusting and deserving of everything painful and humiliating that was heaped on me that night. I felt it revealed who I am at the core.

Because of the shame attached to this memory, it took me a long time to share the full story with E., my therapist. It’s not that I don’t trust her, because I most emphatically do. But in November, I finally shared it. Then other things came up, and then I went on vacation, and its only today, six weeks later, that I returned back to this topic in therapy.

*** * *** * ***

I bring two printouts of the story with me to therapy today, so we both have a copy to refer to. This is a six-page, single-spaced detailed account of the before, during and after of the event. I was scrupulously honest about ugly details; I didn’t want to leave anything out. After all, whatever I left out would be my greatest shame. How can I heal that shame if I keep it hidden?

I hand her a copy. “Can we go back to this?” I ask.

“Of course,” E agrees. “What would be helpful?”

It all comes back to the shame and judgment. “We left off talking about how to bring more compassion to the woman in the story, and that remains hard for me. Impossible, maybe.”

We talked about how I read other people’s stories on their blogs, and I can feel compassion for them. It’s easy to see their pain and want to comfort them. But my own story still feels different. The shame of it blocks the way for compassion and tenderness.

“Is there a small piece of this woman’s story we can take and maybe bring compassion just to that piece?” E asks me. We talk about the woman in the story (me) in the third person, in order to reduce flooding and to see her more as a person I might want to help.

I think about this for a while. “Can we start with the last part of the story, the days after the assault? She goes to the hospital. She talks once to her therapist. But she doesn’t have time to take care of herself. She is in the process of moving to another state. She is a single mom with little kids. She has to pack and clean the apartment and enroll the kids in a new school. There’s no one to comfort her, and no time, and no resources, so she just moves on. And she tells herself that it’s not a big deal, that other people have it worse. But it must really be a big deal, or why has it tormented me for so long?”

E. tells me to imagine I go to the woman now and say, “I want to help you. I think what happened to you was brutal and immensely painful, and I want to help you feel better. What would the woman say?”

I frowned. “She’s says it’s kind of late for that.”

E. nodded. “You can tell her it is late, of course it is. You wish you could have given this to her then, but you weren’t able to. She is entitled to feel angry that she didn’t get the help she needed at the time. But you hope–we both hope–that she won’t let that anger prevent her from accepting the help now.”

E. asks me, if I had been there then, how I might have helped her. That wasn’t hard to answer. “Childcare. She needed help taking care of the children.”

“Ah, an excellent nanny.”

“Yes, excellent, the best. One that would make the children feel safe and play with them in a way that brings them joy. Because the woman who was assaulted, she used every bit of energy and strength she could muster to try to care for those little guys. She wanted them to be okay. But that meant there wasn’t anything left for her.”

“You have the power to help her now. It doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy. It can still help her. You can give her that excellent nanny and then take her and give her what she needs and let her take all the time required to heal.”

So that’s my assignment: to design the healing, comfort response that this woman needed back when she was first reeling from that horrible night.

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “My Next Assignment in Therapy

  1. I couldn’t read all of your story, it was so upsetting. But I did take one positive, which was the idea of writing the story of abusive experiences in the third person. I am going to try this, to see if it alters my interpretation of events. It’s hard to feel compassion for ourselves but easier to feel it for others. So – thank you for this.

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  2. Congratulations for having had the courage to bring this horrible episode before your therapist. For what it is worth, I see no fault in your nature at all when I read it, although plenty of faults in the abuser’s… He sounds like an accomplished predator who was just able to sound plausible when offering “hospitality.” One can but hope his deeds eventually brought him to grief and jail. I hope this new approach will bring you some well-deserved peace, though.

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    • Ah, but the version online doesn’t include everything… Wait, wait, the implication of that is that if you knew EVERYTHING you would also think badly of me. But I’m trying to get away from that line of thinking, so I will try again.

      Thank you, Eleanor, for your support. I struggle so much with blaming myself that I don’t often even think about him. I hope he has reformed his ways. I hope he has learned something about consent and manipulation and changed his behavior, either because he found some kindness in his heart or because the absence of kindness landed him in some serious legal trouble.

      And I am very sorry to any other woman who was hurt because I wasn’t able to report him.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so interesting that you wrote the story in third person to be more objective. I’m like you in a way…I find it very easy to feel empathy for others with similar stories, and I feel horrified and angered that someone would do that to them, but when it comes to my own story, it’s so familiar that I just feel kind of numb and “eh” about it. When I allowed my therapist to read my blog post about sexual abuse, I watched her, and she was visibly upset, holding her knuckles to her mouth as she slowly scrolled through the post on my phone. She commented on how disturbing the abuse I’d written about was, which I hadn’t really considered. I guess a lot of times, it does require an outsider’s perspective to realistically see the things we’ve gone through…Sending you thoughts and prayers. ❤️

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    • I think sometimes it helps us to see our therapists upset at what happened, because we do grow numb and turn off our feelings. I have been telling myself “it’s no big deal” for a long time (clearly a lie since this event has troubled me for so long!).

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  4. I wasn’t following your blog when you originally posted the story about Stephen, and am just reading it now for the first time. I didn’t realize you had posted an account of what happened. Christ. I can’t believe you survived. I will reiterate that what happened with Stephen was absolutely a trauma re-enactment, you were conditioned at a young age to recognize such experiences as ‘normal’ and something you ‘deserved’ and you have so much courage for facing all of this. I understand why you would feel shame, but he was so wrong, not you. Not you. Not you.

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    • I have started three different responses to you and then deleted them because in one way or another they all said “it was my fault, too” or “well, if you knew all the details…” Clearly I am still working on the shame piece. But at least I’m ready to take it on now, instead of just hiding from it. Thank you for your on-going support and kindness.

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  5. I have so many feels right now. And I don’t know what to say besides “it’s not your fault, never your fault, no matter what you do people aren’t allowed to rape and abuse you.” Also, you are so brave and wonderful and smart. Thank you, just for existing.

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  6. Pingback: The Filth And The Muck | la quemada

  7. Therapy is tough and not for the faint at heart. It’s work, emotional work that tears at your soul and you wonder sometimes “should I bring all of this crap to the surface or keep it buried”. I chose to bring it to the surface and wow, it’s been a bumpy, tearful ride, however, I’ve faced some demons and discovered that the reason I react to things, my personality, my sensitivity, lack of trust, self-confidence etc, stems from the sexual abuse and the impact living as a daughter of a narcissistic mother.

    You’ve proven your courage and strength to open up and trust someone to hear your deepest secrets; a stranger no less. I’m proud of you. Keep strong. Hugs, Deb

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  8. Q thats a tough assignment but you are already doing great with it from follow up posts on the blog. your therapist seems very compassionate and caring, i’m glad you have her in your corner. XX

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  9. Pingback: Stuck on Primal Shame | la quemada

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