I know this is a movie title but honestly it is so fitting. When I started this blog I had no idea therapy or my story would get this bizarre.
After the last session where the inner critic felt, not rescued but like it had an ally, what followed was a burst of inspiration. I emailed a set of goals for therapy (as the critic) including wanting to discuss difficult things that happen during sex, the names of the parts I had discovered and something WAAAAAAY personal in relation to sexual abuse. His reply included, “yes you can definitely talk to me about that” and “I think we would do well to come up with a kinder name for you.”
And that’s when my brain kind of opened up in ways it hasn’t before. For many years I could feel this kind of blockage, like there was a wall there and something was behind it, something about the past. Never did I imagine it was PEOPLE.
I have recurring dreams of finding a trapdoor in the ceiling or wall of a house and then finding a whole hidden house beyond it. The rooms in the hidden part of the house always look strangely still like crime scene or as though the people living there have been suddenly whisked away by aliens. The rooms always look unfamiliar and yet not. This week I feel like I have stumbled through that door simply because I chose to give the critic a name. I decided to go with the name Faith and immediately I feel that part approve. Then Faith came alive in me. I could SEE her as I often see the critic – much younger than me, fierce, in darkness, always wearing a black hoodie. I could feel other parts she controlls locked up in the rooms of this hidden house in my brain. By the time Sunday came around two other parts that were previously hazy memory states had crystallized and been given names and I sent J an email asking him if I was going insane.
But he addressed his very kind reply to me, Jane, the regular everyday person reminding me that I’m the chairperson, I have to take care of all the parts. This confused and angered the critic (I can’t seem to call that part Faith here yet) who has always been a gatekeeper or filter of sorts. His labelling of me Jane as the apex of the hierarchy eroded some trust between the critic and J.
By the time I arrive for my appointment I am feeling flooded with disgust and shame that I assume has come from the critic. I also find myself arguing with that part about who will get to attend the session. I feel myself fighting off dissociation and extreme sleepiness: the analgesia that is part of tonic immobility. I beg the critic to not put me to sleep. It has been so long, almost a year since the critic has been felt as this external supernatural like figure that hangs over me controlling my state of awareness. I try everything I can to ground myself because I know if the critic takes control it won’t cooperate in session.
I enter the room and immediately notice J isn’t wearing glasses. The last time that happened I the entire session was a write off because I couldn’t recognise him. This time I sense it activating the critic.
“Where are your glasses?” Why the fuck didn’t you wear your glasses. You know how important it is to me that you wear them.
“I rode my bike today so I didn’t wear them. I have these I could wear.” He puts on what I assume are his reading glasses. Half of me feels bad that he might be wearing glasses unnecessarily but the I also feel the critic thinking yes good wear them and I don’t care if they inconvenience you. J continues as we sit, “The weekend sounded busy.”
“What do you mean?”
“You sent me an email about what had been going on and I think we should talk about it especially if you aren’t feeling safe.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you were feeling insane. We need to make a plan for moments like that.”
“Oh I don’t really know. It wasn’t my experience.” I can feel the critic sharing my body and pushing its way into my answers. “Ever since you emailed and addressed it to Jane there has been two parts arguing about who is the chairperson.”
“Oh I’m sorry.”
“No don’t apologise. I tried to talk to the critic and explain that you were addressing your reply to the person who had emailed you.” Oh shut up Jane.
“Yes that’s right. Is that part still arguing with you?”
“Can you describe what it’s like? Is it a voice you hear?”
“No we’re co-conscious right now. Its kind of like, image you have two people holding a pen and they’re both wanting to draw something with that pen and so what comes out is kind of a mish-mash of what they each want to draw. That’s happening with my speech. I can feel each sentence is kind of not quite what either of us what to say.” The whole time my speech has been slightly slower and laboured as we fight over each word.
“Ah I see. What we need to develop is an observer voice. A part that can watch what’s going on and discuss it.”
“I have that already.”
“We need to strengthen that part.”
“That makes no sense to strengthen a third part. My observer watches my life like a movie. It sees how all the parts are interacting but it’s not it’s own life.” I feel the critic trying to push me out of my body.
“Oh ok that sounds very detached. No maybe we don’t want that.”
BAM. I feel the critic shove me. I look away as I feel an internal tussling. J stops talking.
“Did something just happen?”
I ignore him and then feel more jousting like my head is being pounded. BAM suddenly I the critic am there in the room, looking out from these eyes, no longer just a voice in Jane’s head. I feel satisfied and try to stifle a grin. I look around the room. Ah yes…I’m here in his office alone. Wow, I’ve never done that before! Pushed her out so suddenly. More stifled smirks.
“What’s going on?”
“There’s a part that can see what’s just happened but I don’t want to let it speak because it’s not safe. I don’t want to incriminate myself.”
Psychologist J starts talking. I eventually disclose that I had taken over the body and how earlier Jane had arrived feeling shame and disgust. I mention the MRI and other things specific to Jane’s life that are overwhelming her and how I felt I had to take over.
“You can manage all those big feelings.” He goes into a spiel about the critic and I feel something bubbling through my head like brown mud. I blurt out, “I feel really bored.”
J stops mid sentence and looks a bit shocked.
“I just suddenly felt it.”
J adjusts his face and then says, “you know I have my own critic and I just heard it say something then. Should I share it?”
“I suppose,” I say flatly, instantly irked by his comment about having his own critic.
“I heard a voice say what my grandmother used to always say. That only boring people feel bored.”
I say nothing.
“I don’t mind that you said you feel bored.”
“I don’t care if it bothers you or not. I’m stuck with the feelings and I don’t want to feel this way. I was starting to feel really impatient like something awful and boring was going on and on and on.” This is a memory but the critic isn’t aware it’s partially in a memory.
“Oh so it was impatience not boredom.”
“I feel irritated. Something feels wrong. I don’t know why, I can’t pinpoint it because you aren’t saying anything bad but your attitude seems wrong in some way, like you’re suddenly interested and curious. It feels like I’ve stripped for you and after this you’ll go about your day all happy and whatever and after I’ll feel too vulnerable. I just have this image of you in my mind of you feeling satisfied after this session and then being able to forget and go one with your day but I’ll be left feeling violated.”
“Oh yes, that sounds awful. You’re sensitive to feeling like an object.”
“No that’s not it. It’s because of the comment you made about having a critic of your own. I felt a disconnect. I feel like a piece of playdoh you’re shaping and carving me up.”
“Something feels too forced or manipulative. In the past you told me you sometimes share things or tell me what’s going on in your mind because I’m more ‘robust’ now”, I say with air quotes. I see J kind of smiling like he’s been caught out. “You aren’t sharing because of a connection but because you’re trying to shape me or move me along in the therapy somehow.”
“You want me to be genuine. Thank you. I’m so glad you can bring this up.”
“Now you’re annoying me by being to agreeable!”
J laughs. “If you want me to be genuine then you have to accept these comments I make that are genuine. It was clunky what I did. I do my best work when I’m not trying to be a therapist.”
“I want you to be a therapist but for it to not be so obvious or feel manipulative. Now I feel really icky and bad. I want to start the session over.”
“Unfortunately we can’t do that.”
“I feel like I really hate you but I know it’s not about you. It feels like a memory. Sometimes I feel so angry like I could really kill someone right now. Like I can imagine wanting to slice my dad up and having no feelings at all as I did it and then toss all the little bits of him away into the garbage bin so I can say to him ‘see I can also treat you like a piece of meat.'”
“Yes of course.” Here J said a bunch of validating things but I don’t remember his exact words but we’ve talked before about how abuse can make you feel such intense murderous desires towards those that hurt you and how those feelings cam make you feel like a stranger to yourself. Lucky for me, Jane, the critic holds most of those dark moods.
“Can you move?” I ask.
J moves to the wooden chair to the left and we discuss the things that are bothering me now.
“I have too much to deal with like that dog to put down and the MRI.” That dog being my dog of 18 years who I suppose the critic doesn’t think of as it’s dog but it considers dealing with the emotions of putting a dog down it’s job.
“Are you nervous about the MRI?”
“No. I’ll deal with it but Jane and I are arguing about how to manage it.”
“The other parts might have some feelings about the MRI.”
“Yes, too much so I’ll do the MRI so they don’t have to feel it.”
We talk briefly about the goals I’d emailed and the other questions and concerns about trauma that surfaces during sex.
“Do you want me to read it? How about I read it now so I know what do discuss next session.”
“Oh I don’t know.”
“How about I read it before next session so that I’m prepared for it on Thursday.”
“Ok.” He pauses and then asks quietly, “Are you present when Jane and (Husband) have sex?”
“Yes,” I look down; a mixture of shame and disgust. “But it doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t believe her when she (Jane) tells me it’s safe and she’s allowed to do it with her husband. I need to learn how it is different to what happened to me.”
“Yes of course you need to hear it for yourself. It’s in my mind for next session.”
“I wish there was no such thing as sex in the world. To me it’s disgusting and until I understand it, I hold her back. Jane can’t fully relax and if I have to participate I find myself only able to see (husband) as an object to be used. How I was.”
“Yes, you’re hypervigilant.” He pauses as though thinking and then leans forward. “We need to help you sleep so you don’t have to be there for it.”
2 thoughts on “Stranger than Fiction”
It’s a great title because it’s true. The truth often is stranger than fiction, especially so in this case. You even have the dramatic, story-telling elements of the multiple characters – Jane, Faith, Psychologist J.
I love the sensitive shark!
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Thank you! 💓
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