Click here to read Part I
On the day of my next appointment there is an argument going on inside between myself and the critic. I sense that it is going to push me aside and then spend the session refusing to speak to J. I send him a text message saying I am very dissociated. I also bring him a typed note explaining what I think has set off the critic. After I print the note I feel myself leaving, the critic in my place. As the critic I scribble a note to J about how I feel and things I have recalled that the rest of me can’t understand or know.
When I arrive for my appointment, I sit in the waiting room couch but discover that my water bottle has leaked. I go to the toilets and on my way I pass Psychologist J coming out of the men’s. He smiles brightly and says hello but in a dissociated state, I ignore him and enter the women’s bathroom. When he calls me into the room for my appointment again I don’t return his greeting. I cross the threshold into his office and stand still about one foot inside and stare straight ahead out the window. Outside is an overpass onto a bridge in the city. Beneath it is the light rail station. But all I see is grey concrete. Safe grey slabs. I stare at it as my body starts to vanish.
“I got your message,” he says referring to a text message I sent saying I was very dissociated. “Would you like me to leave the room while you get settled?” I must have answered yes because he leaves and as soon as he does I snap back into my body. I’m the inner critic. I sit in the couch and wait for him to return.
He is talking to me but I’m looking away. You did this to me.
“Are you angry at me?”
“Can you tell me what I’ve done to make you angry?”
“I want you to stop waking me up!” The critic is half in a memory of being woken up in the night to be abused and half not in a memory and is angry that talking about the past stirs up memories of the past. I go silent and avoid eye contact. J tries talking for a bit. Oh shut up J. He keeps talking.
“I have only two choices. We can talk but I can either fight you or submit and ignore you,” I say referring to what’s going on in the memory. J looks perplexed and serious.
He’s silent for a moment then he asks
“Do you want to be here?”
“I want you to know you don’t have to be here if you don’t want to. You can leave if you want.”
“No I have to be here to stop them from talking.”
“The other parts?” I nod.
“They think they know what’s ok to talk about but they don’t see the full picture. They only know what I tell them.”
“Maybe we can just sit here quitely and say nothing so you can rest.”
“No because I have to stay on guard.”
“I can keep watch,” he says.
“If I go away you might be conspiring against me with the other parts.”
“How can they if they only know what you tell them?”
“They could make plans with you or talk about me and you and them would be like yep that’s a good idea, a good way forward but I know better.”
“Yeah, of course and they don’t have a fucking clue,” he says in a strange jovial tone trying to empathise with me.
“Did something happen since last session to make you angry at me?” I can feel the other parts reminding me of our agreement.
“Yes. I wrote it down.”
“Oh ok but you sent me a message to disregard those emails you sent so I haven’t read them.”
“No, I wrote it down here.” I gesture with my eyes to the document lying on top of my bag. It’s partially damp and very crumpled.
“We made an agreement. That they wouldn’t talk but I would give it to you.”
“Oh you wrote something down before? That’s very clever. Do you want me to get it?”
He leans forward and reaches for the document. In doing so he swivels his body so for two moments he is directly facing me. For an instant I feel a naked man pressed up against me. I instantly feel my eyes rolling up and away and my whole body feels like it is fainting for a split second. A mini-flashback.
“You only have to read the first page and the bit I wrote in pen on the back. I don’t know what the typed bit says. I didn’t write it.” This is true. I remember, as the critic, having no clue that the typed note had expressed my concern that since the critic was mad, I feared it would be disruptive and combative during the session and that I couldn’t convince that part of me to be co-operative. The critic had scribbled on the back of the document some feelings about how last session’s revelation that it was indeed a human with a body had reminded it why it disowned its body in the first place.
J turns his body slightly to the side, his leg crossed as he begins reading the document. I stare at him as he reads. He looks serious. From this angle he has a double chin that bothers me. His shoulders and upper body look overly muscular. He’s wearing his frequently worn navy cardigan. What a strange mix of scholar, body builder and grandpa. He just needs a leatherbound book on his lap, a pipe in his mouth and a protein smoothly to complete the picture.
He starts by discussing what was written by the critic which included, among other things, that I want to punch him and rip his face off but I can’t be sure if he is the one who did the abuse or if it was someone else, such is the twilight zone the critic lives in. It’s times like this I think I would never want to be a therapist and I marvel at how stable J must be to read something like that and not immediately march me out of his office. The scribble also says that, though Jane has told me its a ridiculous thought, that I feel I am nothing more than a sex toy and that I can’t participate in anything, not even a conversation with a man because I will seduce him without meaning to or he will seduce me. I also mention that that is why I long for Dr K, because being female there is no chance things will lead to sex.
J starts with how I feel I have only two modes of operating – fight or submit – and how too much intellectual probing by him triggers these fight/flight modes.
“I only know how to be this way because I’m only around to fight someone off or when the body is being probed. I don’t want to be molested with words or hands.”
“No of course not.”
Here my notes of the session are sketchy. It’s hard to be sure what was discussed in what order but the session takes on a different feel. J is concerned, validating, compassionate and we discuss more of the thoughts and feelings the critic had scribbled down.
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know.”
I talk about how I feel ruined and vile because of what was done to my body.
“I feel like since I can’t fight him off then I have to like it what’s happening to me.”
“Yes,” says J. “Like in your poem how you said you could eat the rotten meat. What he did doesn’t make you vile.”
“Not just him.”
“There was someone else?”
“Besides him?” I nod.
“Besides you?” I nod.
“My mother. She blamed me.” I talk about how she treated me like I was someone who had seduced her husband, how she had been disgusted at me and then emotionally withdrawn from me permanently and how I had no choice but to turn to my father for any scraps of love.
“Her reaction really cemented you as the other woman, didn’t it.”
“Yes,” I say feeling the shame building.
“That was her distortion to blame you because she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she married a monster. You can’t seduce someone when you’re 3. You were innocent and not at fault. A parent or mother should be angry at him and should have taken you away from him and never let him come near you again.”
“You’re safe now. I’m J and he’s him and I won’t do what he did.”
“It’s not you, it’s my body. Jane tells me that it isn’t true but I feel powerful.”
“Yes because I could make a man lose control and become consumed with lust without even trying.”
“Ah yes. Now I understand. Yes he made you feel that way. Like it was something you did. It’s never ok to do that to a child.”
“It feels like my fault. I must have been too beautiful.”
“No. It’s never ok no matter how beautiful or special they are. You know what they say? That when we’re born we’re all gold and then things happen to us. But it’s not true. You stay gold.”
“I’m not gold because also I have his feelings in me. I know how he felt. He wanted to ravage something and not care that he hurt that thing and I do that to my body with food or self harm.”
“I just want you to know I don’t feel scared of you.”
“That’s because I restrain myself. I feel like I could kill someone if I wanted to. I just want to be innocent and not know what I know about sex,” I say in a childlike voice.
“Yes, that’s what happens,” he says quietly. “He took your innocence.”
“Can you move?”
“Over there.” I glance at the chair to the left.
I start crying but as the conversation continues I feel the whole left side of my body burning with an intense comforting glow.
“I felt some hope last Thursday when I realised I have a body but now I remembered why I can’t integrate with Jane because then she will be contaminated. And hearing all this stuff I deserved makes me upset. I feel so hurt and I don’t know what to do with these feelings. The other parts can’t handle how I feel and I just want to spare them. I want to keep these memories from them, keep them innocent so maybe they have a chance. Sacrifice myself.”
“You’re like a big sister who had a plan to never let them know the stuff you know.”
“I have dark places they don’t have.”
“What do the other parts do when you feel this way?”
“They try to comfort me. They tell me they’re an adult now and they can handle this for me.”
“Yes. Good,” he says nodding. “You can learn to let the other parts help you.”
“Sometimes they try but I have to block them from having access to the body because they don’t know what I know.”
“You’re so alone.”
There is more lost conversation and then he says, “What if you can learn there are more ways of being? More than just fight or submit? One day we should play a card game or something.”
“No. Whenever I feel something good in my body I feel memories and bad stuff. It’s not safe to play or interact with anyone.” More tears.
“It’s common to feel comfort from some of what was done. A lot of people feel comfort and there’s no shame in that. It’s what bodies do and it makes you human.”
He is touching on the difficult dark shameful places of sexual abuse, the shame of your body betraying you despite being in a state of complete and utter terror and horror.
For survivors of early childhood sexual abuse it is even more complex because attachment feelings of comfort, safety, and love get tangled up with terror, horror, emotional betrayal, physical danger and intense and frightening sexual sensations. The only option then is for your body to live in a state of numbness.
As he validates my anger and pain while we sit there, I feel the palm of my left hand grow warm and feel the urge to hold someone’s hand. Such a new and foreign sensation for my left hand.
“I want something I’m ashamed of.”
He stretches his hand out somehow knowing what I want and I hold it. His hand is always so much smaller and delicate than I expect or rather my hand is so much bigger than I expect because the critic is certain she is a child.
“This is the minimum of what you should have had (as a child), a hand to hold when you were scared.”
“Yes. Whenever I’m really upset I find myself wanting to hold your hand or Dr K’s because then I know it’s over. I’ve made it out the other side,” I say crying.
“Yes. It is over,” he says. “You’re in the present and its safe.”
“It feels like it happened yesterday.”
He nods and validates some more about how the abuse is over.
“This is what I do, I offer ordinary comfort.” He starts off on a spiel that I can’t take in.
“Stop calling it ordinary because that makes me even more upset. I mean for me its like how water can be amazing if you’re totally parched.”
“Ah yes I can see that.”
I let go of his hand.
“I can’t leave and I need to. I need the other parts to come back because if I leave like this they will only remember this session like a dream and then they will panic about how they didn’t feel like they were here at all today. I can feel their panic.”
“Can you call out to them?” I try speaking to Jane in my head but I hear nothing but suddenly I have access to her perspective.
“Oh I remember what the typed document said,” I say referring to what everyday Jane wrote. As I talk I feel myself slowly coming back into consciousness. “I think the critic doesn’t like to be stirred up or stimulated in anyway not even intellectually. I feel like the child and critic are two sides of the puzzle and when I put their memories together,” I say holding my hands as though they’re holding two halves of a coconut, ” I see the full picture.”
“The critic needs a new name. I don’t like calling it the critic. I feel like I want to call it the survivor.”
“The critic came up with a name that I don’t approve of. I feel like there is so much I’ve learnt and want to discuss but when I do it activates the critic and feels like a re-enactment. The critic is always partially in memory. It doesn’t realise you can’t see it as it was then.”
“No that’s right.”
“I feel ashamed all of a sudden. Have I done something wrong?”
“No. Not at all. Let me say this to you and the critic. You’re piecing it all together. You’re processing a lot, in here and in between sessions. We will get there. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Ok,” I say looking down meekly and shake off the last chill of shame. I start to feel that warm glow of comfort and safety again. I sense the critic feels it has a true ally in J. As I fold the blanket back over the armrest in preparation to leave he says one last thing, “We’re learning about the past so the critic can rest.”
4 thoughts on “Voice from the Past – Part II”
it’s so awful how running over hot coals being jabbed by spears is such progress. 😦 well done, you. Amazing how you navigate all this. The ways you have learned to communicate through such difficult topics and filters and barriers.
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Thank you…your running over hot coals description is so perfect 👌
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I also agree that “the critic” should be renamed “the survivor”.
I feel such a mix of emotions reading this. Rage and fury towards your parents, I wanted to cry for you, and then I also felt a sense of relief and hope as Psychologist J was holding your hand.
I also hope that the critic, nay, “the survivor”, get some much needed and deserved rest.