WHEN THERAPY IS RE-TRAUMATIZING

I did not wake up intending to write this today. As a matter of fact, I sat down to write about something completely different that has been begging for release, something much more uplifting, as it deals with the little miracles I have been uncovering in the midst of my trauma recovery. This though…

Blindsided.

What I know now is that the only way trauma can be released is if it is brought to the surface. (Hello, flashbacks and triggers.) While I loathe the terrifying experiences that rob me of all my adult faculties, I at least now understand that they are happening as an integral part of the healing process, and I can embrace them as life-lines instead of death threats. I am sad that it has taken me so many years of suffering, alone, to finally get to this understanding, but much more grateful to be standing here, now.

I cannot walk around another day with the anger, betrayal, and resentment of this, or any other previously unresolved issue in my life. I finally see how carrying around such uneccessary baggage, whether consciously or not, is akin to feeding the very beast that I am diligently trying to conquer within myself. I reckon that this realization was/is the precursor to my actual slaying of said beast. (Interestly, at the time of this writing, I am not entirely certain that has happened just yet, but I’m here writing about it anyway, so I’m sure it is of value.) I am here to get this monkey off my back, once and for all.

When I was a new mother, I had a therapist I will call Lonnie. Pregnancy was equally magical and terrifying for me and I was grateful to feel supported by someone with whom I had established what I considered to be a trusted and warm rapport. She had a buttery, soothing, soft voice and what appeared to be an earnest compassion that enabled me to open up and feel safe in peeling back the layers of what I was experiencing.

Our interaction began on the heels of the biggest betrayal of my life that I can say with absolute certainty, was what overloaded my scale of sanity beyond its limit, resulting in what catapulted me to my current critical level of symptomatic challenges. I was extremely vulnerable at that time, feeling shattered. I could not afford another betrayal. After all, I was experiencing a rather double-whammy having left one toxic marriage for another, and reeling from the bitch-slap of my misfortune in it all. I was beyond vulnerable. I was RAW. I think I may have even described it to her that way once, saying it felt like I had no skin. I’m just now recollecting her most valuable response which was to say something about it being like a paraplegic who is expected to run- its the same way for people with invisible wounds, but people don’t see our handicap. No legs!Can’t run! RAW. It is nice to hold onto the good things that came from all my painful experiences. It is what enables forgiveness to eventually take root, which is vital to self-discovery and positive growth, in my opinion.

Lonnie really seemed to get me. What I appreciated most was the way she encouraged and praised my creativity as an outlet. I desperately needed an ally and grew to trust her as such. I should have known there was a problem when I realized I was withholding information from her for fear of moral judgement. As it turned out, she and her husband, also a therapist, had developed this relationship program to help couples better communicate. It made sense. She would sometimes see both my husband and I in an effort to get him to understand my diagnosis of Anxiety, Major Depressive Disorder, and PTSD, (before the Complex was added to differentiate it) and offer us homework as a means to work out our issues. I’m a bit stumped here because in retrospect, I can’t understand how she would have been so vigilant in trying to give us these tools to save our marriage after hearing the things I’d told her about how his behavior was affecting me.

So many signs! Bear with me, as I am a bit jostled in the executive functioning department of my brain responsible for putting stuff together, in the wake of recent triggers.

To make it clear, I gave her every indication that I was in a dangerously toxic relationship that was a classic narcissist-feeding-off-of-the-wounded-victim scenario; fangs locked, the blood slowly draining from me. When I say clear, I mean it didn’t take a person with any special education to know that I was in a situation that was detrimental to my health and well- being, first as an individual, and then later, as a mother. When your therapist is writing you a note to give your husband asking him to please stop doing something that is causing your trauma to be triggered and is therefore keeping you in a continual loop of re-victimization, this is a most glaring red flag, but one of many that I sadly, missed at the time.

That’s one of the things that makes trusting so hard. When we let our walls down to feel safe with someone, all the red flags trip our cognitive dissonance switch. I would think to myself, Oh, hell no! I carefully vetted this one! There is NO WAY I would have allowed myself to become a victim again! And that is exactly how it happened. I paid such a high price to let my guard down that I was blinded to all the signs. Cue the self-loathing, fear, shame, doubt, etc. If there is not already a term for piggy-back traumas, there should be. Think of it like a train wreck; the one car stops and then the others slam into it in a domino effect. It’s like icing on your trauma cake with ice cream, whipped cream, and 6, 842 cherries on top. Fun! Did I paint an accurate picture? I sure hope so. I may actually do that later because it sounds like an excellent way to process all of what I am feeling, however that number of cherries seems a bit daunting. But I digress.

As my condition spiraled further beyond my control and hers, and my attempts to have my needs met by the proper mental health intervention that she was not providing fell on deaf ears, I began to miss our scheduled appointments. It was not intentional, but I understood her frustration on a professional level. She had given me a warning that if it happened again she would no longer be in a position to feel as if she could help me, and there were people she was having to turn away due to the schedule that I was taking up space and flaking out on. I accepted that, and vowed to make sure it never happened again and it never did.

I had a crisis episode after going on a bizarre fruitless quest to receive emergency help from two separate practices that proved to be dead ends, and it was at that time that Lonnie “fired” me. It turns out that she had been enabling my husband to call her in times of extreme duress where we had met an impasse and he felt helpless, I guess because she had begun also seeing us as a couple as opposed to just me individually, and he was an expert at taking liberties that did not belong to him. (Facts) This day was the final straw for her, it turned out. I understand, looking back, that he needed his own safe space around trying to deal with our failed marriage and his issues, but this, I knew, was completely inappropriate on many levels and a serious crossing of professional boundaries.

It was after this awful trauma-induced day, when I reached out to her only as a last resort, that she decided to leave me the message that ” she was not in the business of crisis control” and was therefore ending our therapy. I can’t remember if she ended it with her trademark, buttery smooth, “Take good care” that I’d always loved. Either way, it felt like a knife, and the slow drip of blood now felt like a gushing wound that left me for dead, for the how-ever-many-est time. (*I fortunately found an excellent Psychiatrist who later validated the audacity of Lonnie’s message and behavior.)

Making matters worse, leading up to this, Lonnie had been talking a lot about Borderline Personality Disorder, going so far as to suggest a close friend of ours, a pillar in the community, well-loved by many, surely exhibited all the symptoms. She never once made any indication of believing I shared any of them. Even if she had, she was a LCSW, so it was not her place to diagnose, in addition, I had been tested and there was no indication of a personality disorder, so anything she discussed concerning the matter was simply speculation on her part. I did think it was odd that she seemed to bring it up frequently since it had no relevance to me other than to pique my curiosity on the disorder itself. I would have been the first one to recognize whether or not it applied to me. I knew that there were some crossover behaviors listed that are common to sufferers of childhood trauma living with Complex PTSD, but I felt confident that my test results would have indicated if it were significant enough for me to claim it. There is no shame in having a personality disorder. If anything I secretly hoped it might explain some of the things I was struggling with and at that time likely believed there was a pill that might help. This was another red flag that I missed.

Coinciding with this difficult event, in all it’s trauma-piggy-back glory, came a fateful day when I discovered that my husband had been trying to make my best and dearest friends, a couple whose child was our daughter’s playmate and my god-child, believe that I was, in fact, “crazy”. I was actually presented with evidence that they were leaning toward his side when one of them asked how I would feel if he got custody of our child, in a not so veiled attempt to shame me, but make it look as if they were just concerned for my welfare. What?

Didn’t get that? I said I’d like a quadruple betrayal latte with unsolicited seething bitterness, a splash of total devastation, and extra whipped WTF. Mmmkay?

My blood is boiling as I reflect, but I am staying present with this pain right now and boldly calling out this demon to slay because I am done holding onto this. Facing your rage is ugly stuff. Likely why there are so many assholes and unkind folks in the world, because it’s much easier to just harden your heart and let the chips fall where they may, than to do the painful deep work involved in integrating all aspects of what has made you the person that you are today. It’s way easier to just blame everyone and everything around you than to accept the darkest truths of what lurks in the shadows of your subconscious mind. I know I am not reinventing the wheel here.

I know that this is way beyond venting. I am using the voice God gave me with the power and ferocity with which it was given. Also, I am the air that is fanning the flames of this injustice (Libra, representing!) so as to burn it to the ashes from which the Phoenix will rise. (Me being the Phoenix, the ashes, the fire, the air… are you feeling me?)

In wrapping up the end of the story of my experience with Lonnie, I learned that not only did she begin seeing my husband for therapy after this, but that she had begun her own campaign to convince him that I did indeed suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. I found a book with a title that was something like “When Your Spouse Has BPD” which he admitted had been either given to him or suggested for him by her. This naturally, gave him the fuel he needed to continue trying to make it look as if I were indeed “crazy” and my unraveling continued as I fought the long and lonely battle to prove that I was simply trying to extricate myself from a situation that was brutally toxic to me, my husband, and my child.

This man crushed my spirit. This woman came in and compounded that suffering and never lost a night’s sleep over it, maybe never even considering that her behavior was damaging enough to have cost her her very livelihood. I know it sure as hell has cost me mine over the twenty years I have been trying to work through it all. She is retired now and according to Facebook seems to be the same seemingly compassionate person looking to do good things in the world as evidenced by the support and concern she gives to worthy causes.

What I desire most is not anything close to retribution by way of vengeance, but personal accountability and acknowledgement of the pain and suffering that their behavior has cost not just me, but my child, my entire family, and the people who love me the most and have stood by my side with unwavering love and support. In short, a genuine apology. Because my soul’s most fervent desire is to love and let my every move derive itself from a place of humility and understanding of what it means to be human. As above, so below. There’s nothing new under the sun. I am you and you are me. Trees, branches, roots, lungs, ventricles, capillaries, yada-yada. (Lonnie and my ex have now been moved to the folder in my brain I shall now label Yada Yada, and this suits me. If I ever face another trigger from this area of my past I will say it out loud with a washing-my-hands-of-it gesture, followed by making the sign of the cross. I will then giggle and give thanks.) ((Already giggling and giving thanks at the thought.))

That is my very own Pollyanna hopefulness that lives alongside my acute sensibility in recognizing that no matter how much we wish, hope, and pray for specific outcomes in life, the one we end up with is always gonna be the one that serves the best interests of all parties involved, and sometimes that result is not going to be what we want. But I believe this with all my heart; because I only wish for these trials that have connected us all to come to their fruition in whatever way serves to make us all better people, I know that I will find comfort and release in however that plays out.

That concludes today’s scaling of the depths of sweeping the cobwebs from the corners of every previously locked door within my troubled mind. And suddenly 6, 841 feels like victory.

(Thank God my beloved is a Pisces.)

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