Two private therapy sessions ago, I sat on a beach by the ocean with my therapist and told him about a visceral memory from my abuse by the teacher.
The memory is one that I hadn’t had before, of a specific moment. It came to me while writing a ptsd inventory sheet in my ACA program. It is the moment the teacher first kissed me, after a long, full-body hug, and eye-to-eye contact, noses brushing. I was 10 years old, staying over at his house to get away from my parents, who had been arguing.
It’s the moment when my adrenaline system first became overwhelmed. My heart began racing immediately; I went into my room and began fantasizing, sexually for the first time. It was the start of my first crush — an obsessive infatuation that would see me waiting by the phone every day for his call, fantasizing wildly about sex on the beach with him, completely disregarding and abandoning my friends at school. My fantasies would involve him rescuing me in various ways, and then making love to me.
In the session, I sat in the sand and wriggled my toes in it, my legs stretched out in front of me. My therapist embodied the healthy, caring adult response to the scene I recalled. As it was a new memory, I had never spoken it aloud, or received this healthy, caring adult response. It felt like I regressed into my young girl self, which ended up lasting for several days. This was a re-do: An acting out of what should have happened so many years ago. I saw how different my life would be if I had been able to tell a caring adult about what had happened. If appropriate disciplinary action had happened at the school towards this teacher, if we had both received therapy out of even just this moment, not to mention all the inappropriate and damaging moments that happened in the coming year afterwards.
The feeling that lingered, from regressing into my young girl state, in the presence of a healthy and caring older man, was a feeling I described at the following session a couple of days ago as “tenderness”. We talked a lot about what this word means for me, in this context; and this post is a result of that conversation.
At the session, we got to the description of ’emotional intimacy and attunement’, and he began conjuring any memories I had of being touched, swathed, cooed and coddled as a baby and young child. “Being touched with the awareness on the part of the parental figure of how their touch was feeling for me.” These memories do not flow freely in me. Simply imagining myself being touched in this way, as perhaps during a diaper changing, are actually totally repulsive to me. My physical response is to want to writhe and coil up into a ball, shuddering inside my torso.
I cannot recall the experience of being touched by my Father. There are no memories of ordinary moments of touching, such as diaper changing or dressing, bathing, cuddling, etc. with my Father. With my Mother, I remember brash and bold movements, not so much sensitive to how her touch was felt by me — not tender.
I recalled showering with my Father, even up until age 9, but even then, there was no touching; by the time I was showering with him, I was old enough to get in and out of the shower by myself. I also recalled being in a hot tub with both my parents, at around age 12, completely naked, while eating pizza, at a hotel. He had me find a living example of a healthy loving adult, and imagine him or her wrapping me up in a towel, protecting me, and removing me from the situation.
At the end of the session, I had to voice the inner critic that was blasting me with shame and denial — “you are being ridiculous. This is ridiculous. You are making a big deal out of nothing. You are such a flake and a drama queen. You just want attention. Shame on you. He is bored and only humouring you with all these explorations, but sooner or later, he is going to abandon you, and you will be alone again. It’s time you stop belly aching and get over it. Others have had it a whole lot worse than you; you don’t deserve these sessions. You shouldn’t be here. He is laughing at you. You’re not bad enough or sick enough to deserve this.”
When I got home, I cleaned house mindlessly, in a bit of a trance state, as is the norm after these sessions. That night, I sat out on my balcony by the river and wrote. What emerged was an awareness of the part of me that is still not being seen or validated, and would rather die than continue without. A couple of different names have come to mind for this part: My Psychiatric Self, or The Watcher. I don’t know why yet, but this part of me is a He.
I wrote a list of all the things I have been missing and pulling out of lately. It is quite an extensive list — one thing after another. All the people I have had to let down in the last few weeks. I realized that this Psychiatric Self is being honoured in all these cancellations in a way he has been longing most of my life. That I am not emotionally / psychologically well enough to attend … is an accomplishment and an immense relief to him, in the fact that it is being witnessed. I am acknowledging his experience, letting it be seen and seeking the healthy response; and this is something that has never been done in my life.
Letting positive things show around certain others — including my therapist — BETRAYS him; yet, around others — particularly and especially work-related / professional contacts — the positives are all on display. It comes back to my experience of being split, containing two different selves that are in opposition to each other, incongruent. And I am feeling that dynamic very strongly in my present. My gifts and talents are coming out and being seen, but also being undercut by my Psychiatric Self wanting and needing to be seen, acknowledged and responded to in a healthy way.
There is a player in me, and so really there is always one act or the other at play, while the other feels betrayed. It is compulsive and completely out of my control at this point. It is insidious and slippery like an addiction. It creates a constant underlying pain, anxiety and fear of abandonment.
The Watcher is the one in between, experiencing this incongruence and contradictory experiences. The Watcher sees how much pain, instability, isolation and failure this opposition creates in all areas of my life. He says that if he has to continue to witness and experience this, he cannot bear it, and he would rather die. Someone needs to understand and reflect this reality in me. I need to know how to present myself. I can’t bear to continue living this extreme identity crisis. The habitat of the Watcher is so dark that I cannot go fully into feeling it all at once right now.
Finally, I also came back to the definition of tenderness we had been working on. I realized that it is more than just emotional intimacy and attunement. It’s not just intimacy, it’s love. Love, innocence, fondness, affection and caring from a healthy, male, adult figure. These are the things I felt on the beach with my therapist; these are the things I remember also feeling when I was with the teacher. A list of phrases this energy would speak came to me:
I’ll look after you. I’ll always love you and be there for you, no matter what happens.
I’ve got your back.
I think you’re a wonderful person.
I will defend, protect and empower you, and I will never ever leave your side.
I care for you and your well-being deeply, and I will be a guardian and protector of it.
It’s okay. I’ve got you. Let me hold you. It’s okay. I’m here for you. I’m here for you.
I’m not sure how this all relates or doesn’t relate. I’m not sure where it’s all going, but I will speak it out, write it out. Follow it to find the gems that can heal me.