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Friday, July 4, 2008

In-Therapy Samantha

In November of 2005 my mother called me. She told me that cousin David's wife had died. I was completely unprepared for the emotions that engulfed me. I felt wildly triumphant that something bad had happened to the person who had hurt me. I felt shocked that his wife, whom had always been friendly and kind to me, was dead. I felt sadness for the two teenage boys now left without a mother. After years of controlling my emotions, suddenly I had no control.

I asked if the death was suicide. My mother replied that no one knew for certain. The cause of death was a drug overdose. In my mind there was no doubt that she had taken her own life.

I thanked my mother for the phone call, declined her invitation to go with them to the funeral, and hung up. Then I went online to check the newspaper obituary. I read the article, then clicked on the link to sign the online guest book for her. I left a short note expressing sadness and sympathy and signed my name. Then I closed the page and very carefully forced myself to think of something else. As far as I was concerned, the event was finished.

One month later received an email from Sister 1. My father had planned a family gathering the weekend of New Year's. We were going to gather at Sister 3's home and watch all six Star Wars movies, then ring in the New Year together. A video call to Sister 5 in Germany was also planned. I had no interest in the movies, but thought it would be fun to spend time together and I was looking forward to the reunion.

Sister 1's email let everyone know that she had invited cousin David and his sons to join us. I knew she and David had been good friends throughout the years, so I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Suddenly all the emotions were back. For the first time in many years I found myself crying and hysterical. Darrin asked what was wrong. I told him I couldn't go to the reunion and explained why. He said that was fine, we'd stay home--but I still couldn't stop crying.

Two hours later, Darrin led me to the car and drove me to my parents' home. He said we had to talk to my father and tell him the problem. I said I couldn't. Darrin said it was time.

We found my dad in his office and I incoherently and hysterically told him I wouldn't be attending the reunion and why. Even after all the time that had passed, I was certain he would be angry with me. I waited for him to express that. Instead he began to sob. He asked me repeatedly why I had never told him. I tried to explain--and did so very badly. After a rather horrible hour, my father assured me that I needed to be with the family and if he had his way, there would be no contact with David again. I told my dad I didn't want anyone else to know. He said that was up to me. He also said he wanted me to see a counselor. He said this was not something I could deal with on my own anymore. I was too tired to argue.

Over the next couple of weeks my father pumped me for more details. I gave some but not many. I couldn't admit to myself the depth of what had happened, let alone share that with my dad, whom I somehow still felt that I had let down. The reunion came and went--it was a lot of fun. I slipped back into my work routine and forgot my promise to see a counselor.

The first week of February I received a phone call from Counselor the First. She made an appointment to see me that week and I began the journey that still continues. I thought, initially, that I would "finish" in about three months. I am now in my third year.

While with Counselor the First, I learned how to talk about things I had not discussed before. Granted, I used very general terms, and was unable to look at things realistically, but it was a starting point. Counselor told me it was not necessary for me to look at things closely, simply to acknowledge what happened and allow Christ to help me heal. I tried desperately to make that happen. It didn't. Within four months my eating disorder had escalated and my therapy sessions were becoming extremely stressful. I had tried many things--nothing was helping. I finally stopped going. My father was concerned. I said no therapy was better than what I was currently receiving.

It became apparent within about six weeks that I was desperately in need of help. I finally agreed to see a male counselor--the same one my father had been seeing. I was not comfortable with the situation, but agreed because I knew I was in trouble. I began meeting with Therapist and within two visits I realized that this was a person who could truly help me. In addition to finally finding a counselor who seemed to know how to tap into my strengths and allow me latitude to make my own choices, I had found an unlikely online support group made up of people who had encountered my blog and who were willing to allow me to talk with them. Four, in particular, had regular contact with me.

For about nine months I met with Therapist. In that time I learned how to say exactly what had happened to me without throwing up. I met with my cousin, David, and had lunch with him. I did not confront him. My purpose was to see him as he was, so that my fear might subside. My nightmares had become frequent and overwhelming. I worked with a friend to help control those and had success in that, for the most part. I was feeling strong and capable when Therapist let me know he had been transferred to Utah. He asked me to let him refer me to another counselor. I said no. I was finished. Therapist knows better than to argue with me--so he didn't.

One month later I was admitted to the mental health unit of the hospital under suicide watch. During my stay there I was evaluated by a few psychiatrists and did copious amounts of psyche testing. I did hours of therapy. The diagnosis: I was not clinically depressed--in fact, I didn't have any symptoms of depression apart from my wish to die, which made no sense. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which was only now beginning to emerge. As I allowed myself to remember, to talk, to acknowledge the abuses in my life, the PTSD was becoming unmanageable. I watched educational videos which recommended that I work on getting my drug and alcohol addictions under control before I began working on managing PTSD--that was easy enough. :)

I left the hospital with lists of healthy coping resources, pamphlets about what I could expect to experience when the disorder became full-blown, and a prescription to get back into therapy immediately. I ignored all of them.

One month later a counselor was calling me again. Apparently, while at the hospital I had signed a release allowing one of the psychiatrists to follow enroll me as a client at a local mental health clinic. The counselor scheduled my first appointment and I began seeing her. For three months I worked with her, always feeling that I was spinning my wheels and that nothing was getting better. She did, however, help me begin to work on my feelings about the abuse I had received from my mother, but the result was that my PTSD symptoms began increasing in frequency and acuteness. Finally, I went to my father and asked if he thought it would be worth it for me to drive 350 miles monthly to see Therapist once again. My dad said I needed to do whatever was necessary, and if I felt Therapist could help me, that was what I needed to do.

So I began seeing Therapist once again. And once again I felt I was moving forward. Unfortunately, the reality was not what I had been working toward. I wanted, somehow, for my therapy sessions to help me nullify everything. I wanted to be able to make a "happily ever after" for myself. When I realized that was never going to happen, I felt betrayed somehow. I felt I had been tricked into spending two years discussing the things that hurt me--and that hurt all over again. And the process seemed purposeless. I spent nearly eight months wallowing in misery. My sessions with Therapist served to keep me from being despondent, but I was struggling to find momentum again. I had times when I thought things were moving forward, but I couldn't see any progress. Therapist insisted I was still progressing, and he would tell me the ways, but I felt miserable.

I had investigated what it meant to mourn, to acknowledge, to accept--it all seemed rather horrible. My flashbacks and PTSD episodes seemed to control my life. I could see no good outcome to the mess I had begun two years before.

When I visited with Therapist last week, he mentioned that I've made slow steady progress over the past three months, at learning to live with and cope with the stress symptoms of PTSD. My behavior had been erratic and unpredictable in that time period--so I knew he was crazy. He admitted that I had acted in atypical ways, but then said, "What have you learned?"

What had I learned? I learned that I can't count on myself to act correctly when I'm overwhelmed by stress. I learned that sometimes I might yell at my kids--even though I had not done that before. I learned that I'm miserable and insecure when the episodes come. I learned that I sort of hate myself.

Therapist said, No, that wasn't what he meant. He asked me if I'd learned anything else. How had people responded to me? What would I do differently in a similar situation? What did I do to help alleviate the stress?

What did I do to alleviate stress? I talked with my kids, specifically Adam, as he seemed to trigger more negative emotions simply because he was nearing the age that David was when he hurt me. We discussed behaviors they have which trigger flashbacks or leave me feeling attacked and talked about alternatives when situations arise that in which those behaviors might be exhibited. We talked about things we could do to build our relationships, so that we felt safe enough to talk about things without attacking one another. Mostly, I just made sure they know I love them. And Darrin and I agreed that we need to spend more time one-on-one, so he knows where I am emotionally and can help as needed.

Side note: This discussion made me feel inadequate as a parent and completely miserable. My children are not responsible for my PTSD. It makes me angry that it's a part of their lives.

What would I do differently? I told Therapist I'd like to dig a PTSD hole and just stay there until the symptoms pass. He suggested that would be ineffective. I said I still needed to think about this question.

How had people responded to me? With more love that I deserve, certainly. There was a great deal of kindness given me. No one was angry.

Prior to visiting with Therapist last week, I returned to the assignments I had been putting off because they were uncomfortable or scary. And I did quite a few of them. The result of this brought realizations I had been avoiding, but which needed to be acknowledged.

And so, I am here, once again. I see Therapist for a three week check in about two weeks. I'm unhappy that I still need him. I'm unhappy that I still need anyone. But I'm feeling positive about this for the first time in many months. And I'm on my third week of few or no PTSD symptoms.

And now I'm tired. I'm going to bed.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story in this and the previous posts. I'm sure it must have been very, very difficult and yet I firmly believe that as we allow light to shine on our lives and we move away from a life of hiddenness, we open ourselves to healing. May God be with you as you continue your journey.