*******This post is long. But I wanted to put in a trigger warning about it as it is an account of a therapy session where body therapy was used and CSA is referred to. Keep safe. ******************
On Sunday, I realised how dissociated I was when I was in town. I was running some errands and I felt okay until I had to interact with other humans, and then I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t properly think how I should be acting, or responding to cashiers. I couldn’t maintain eye contact as it felt too intense. I felt floaty and cotton-wool headed.
It does make me wonder how often I am dissociated in the house but never notice because I’m in a safe place where I don’t need to respond to anyone? Probably a lot. Only this week my husband pointed out to me that he’d came into the bedroom, undressed and put his pj’s on right in front of me and I hadn’t noticed a thing. I was surprised when I saw he’d changed, I’d had no idea and I think I lost time.
On Monday, as I travelled to my session, I knew there should have been a lot to talk about, yet it was all gone. I think I had been really desperate to get to my session because the previous week had been so bad. And at the weekend, I think I was fluctuating between really needing Sienna and being really angry and mistrustful of her.
Why am I angry? What has she done? Nothing, absolutely nothing… except perhaps have the audacity to have given birth to three daughters in the past 34 years. Could she not just have had 3 boys instead?
I cannot verbalise the extent of the jealousy I’ve been feeling towards her daughters. I am SO angry with her kids, with Sienna and that I will not see Sienna over Xmas because she will be spending her time with her kids. I feel like I am dumped so they can have her. That all year round they get access to her in a way I don’t, and I just about handle it because I also know that on a week to week basis, I see her more than her kids do. And I know she prioritises my sessions to ensure she’s there every week no matter what and that there will have been things she’s turned down with them, to be there for me. And I am also aware that every Xmas she probably sees her children at some point. So why is this year so hard to stomach?
My friends have been encouraging me to tell Sienna for a while now to tell her a) how big an issue this is for me and B) to ask her not to tell me so much about them ( even though it’s not a lot, just every now and then, but it’s enough to hurt.)
But I’m so ashamed and conflicted about my feelings and about what I want to happen, that I just haven’t been able to talk about it. I mean, if I talk about it, she will almost certainly not tell me another thing about them which is good but there’s a tiny part of me that likes to know because, well, I’m curious. I’m curious about who she is as a mother, I’m curious about what kind of humans she brought up… and not being told anything will make me feel separated, distrusted, cut out… at least when she tell me the odd thing, I feel a bit honoured that she trusts me to share it with and it makes me feel… I don’t know, included isn’t the right word because I’m definitely NOT included, but I would definitely feel EXCLUDED if she never told me a single thing.
She can’t win here, can she?
Anyway, my jealousy and inadequacy has had me riled and angry and mistrustful. So that should have been the conversation on Monday. But it wasn’t.
Early on Monday morning I had a bad dream about the abuse stuff and that I couldn’t use my phone to phone Sienna for help and I’d been upset and texted Sienna. Sienna had replied in the morning to reassure me.
She asked about the dream, and if I remembered my text to her? I nodded.
Sienna asked who it was that was dreaming. She said she thought it was one of the little ones. I didn’t know. She said that dream was common for me before a break, about not being able to find her. She reassured me she’s coming back and that I can’t get rid of her. I laughed. I like when she says that.
We fell into a bit of a silence.
Sienna made some suggestions, about maybe doing my dissociation cards. But I didn’t feel like it.
Sienna exclaimed “ my goodness! Who’s here tonight?”
I said I didn’t know.
I told her “ I feel weird”
Sienna asked “ A bit dissociated?”
I nodded. I asked for my blanket and Sienna got it for me.
I sat staring into space. Unsure of what I needed or wanted, but very aware of the drama my body was putting me through inside.
I felt the dissociation thicken and intensify. I feel like I was in a gloop, I felt fuzzy and like I was floating away but underneath that I was in full on panic mode.
Sienna asked me what I was feeling inside.
I told her “ Floaty. Hypervigilant.” Speaking took such effort.
Sienna asked what my hypervigilance was about? Change?
I was surprised, I looked at her “ How do you know that?” She was right, the break coming up was really getting to me.
Sienna said “ Because this is what happens before breaks for you.”
I laughed slightly “ Am I getting predictable?”
Sienna smiled and said “ Yes!”
I knew Sienna thought this upset was all about the Xmas break but she had no idea that it ran much deeper than that. That my upset was more about her children, my jealousy etc.
I had to tell her. But I just couldn’t. So, I sat and silently cried to myself instead, like that might solve something.
I was feeling SO agitated and sad and angry and jealous and scared and suffering from the abuse nightmares, pictures from my dreams were flashing before me. Everything was rolled into one big hypervigilance mess. And I sat there, trying to contain it. Trying to work out what I needed to say, how to say it, how to get what I needed.. not knowing what I really needed but time was slipping away and that made me panic too.
Sienna asked if I felt shut down or if I was just floaty?
I had to push through hard to explain my experience, because my impulse was just to shrug and pretend I didn’t know the answer so that I could stay in my dissociative cocoon.
I nodded and said “ I’m floaty and there’s agitation, and… I don’t know…. Flashes…”
I stumbled over my words, as I struggled to explain my experience.
Sienna asked if there were words?
I told her “ it’s like it’s all in my head, all the agitation is so big but it’s in my head and in my flashes of images but my body is totally numb and stilled, it’s not doing anything. But in my head, it’s all going mad with panic and fear.”
Sienna asked me to close my eyes and tell me what it was like.
I HATED closing my eyes. I was scared she’d hurt me, hit me or something.
But I did it for a few seconds. But the fear got to me.
Sienna directed my attention to my hands. I was clawing at both hands – a sure sign I’ve gone.
She asked what my hands are saying? And asked if I could make those clawing moments on the teddy instead of on my skin – which was now red and marked from me digging my nails in and pressing hard on them.
I told her it isn’t the same, it has to be on my skin.
I knew she was venturing into the whole body work thing. Getting me to notice my body etc. This was different from what we’d normally do. It felt intense already. I didn’t like it much but was still willing to try.
I listened into my body, what did it want to do?
I told Sienna “ My arm, I want to claw at my arms up and down, hard. Frantically. I can just see images flashing in front of my eyes of me – a part needing to scratch and tear at her arms. But I know I’m not supposed to do that but it’s what I need.”
I was sounding agitated and distressed by this point.
Then Sienna made a surprising suggestion.
“ So, what if I said to you that in here, you don’t need to shut it down, you can do that if you need to do it, if it helps with the agitation?”
I said only half-joking “ No, because then I really do look like a mental patient!”
Sienna joked back “ Who said mental patients look like that? You’ve been watching too many films!”
Sienna wanted me to relax my jaw, to calm the vagus nerve which should in turn relax my nervous system.
I tried but it felt too much to open my mouth – unbearable actually.
We worked on my breaths, relaxing my shoulders, opening my jaw even slightly… that one is just a NO.
As we worked I felt the agitation that had been in my arms and hands move into my legs.
Sienna asked if the feeling had moved to something else?
I cried pitifully “ My legs.”
Sienna said softly “ Yeah, your legs? Okay. Just pay attention to your legs. Take those deep breathes right into your legs. What do your legs want to do?
I laughed slightly, surprised that she asked me that just as I was experiencing my legs wanting to run.
I said “ Run.”
Sienna replied “ yeah, they want to run don’t they? YEAH! Because they didn’t run at the time, whatever they wanted to run from at the time, they couldn’t, they were trapped. And they want to run.”
I felt like I was breaking inside. I let out a strangled cry as my body was just going haywire.
Sienna said “ Do they need to move? Do you want to take a walk down the corridor? Or in this room?”
I shook my head. I was still stuck to my seat, I couldn’t have moved even though I felt the energy in my legs wanting to.
Sienna said “ No? Well, they’re needing to at some point, to get up and move, to finish what they didn’t before….
I slumped down to my left side.
Sienna caught the movement and said “ SEE! Look ( she looked at my posture as I slumped -That’s you heading for shut down. See that? You can’t do the running so you’re heading for shut down. So one day, Sirena, you’re going to let those legs move and finish what wasn’t finished.”
Sienna reminded me to open my jaw a little. “ Try and resist that shut down, because you’re safe here. Where’s the feeling now?”
I checked in with my body, what was it doing, I wondered? My nervous system was so overextended that I really had to feel past the extreme agitation and dissociation to get a read on what my body was doing.
Finally I said “ It wants to claw” I sat up and forward and brought my arms up to my neck. I had a necklace on and it took me all my might not to rip it off me. I clawed at my next. Frantic.
I was in some sort of flashback or at least my body was reliving something. Something terrible. I made a strangled noise, a wild cry escaping from me, despite my frantic efforts to hold onto some semblance of normality.
Sienna coached me through it. “ Stay with it. Let it come up. What’s that noise that you’re suppressing?
I knew the answer. But I couldn’t speak the words that were being repeated over and over in my head. I was in the middle of the biggest battle of my life in that moment.
Trying to stay somewhat present whilst still being firmly in the grips of a flashback/trauma release.
But the images and words were so powerful that I struggled to stay present. I was there and not there all at once.
Desperate to say the words, to tell, to share….yet fighting to keep it suppressed and having no idea which part would win. It felt like torture.
I whispered the words into myself. Murmuring them as if that might appease the parts who needed desperately to tell.
But it wasn’t enough.
I felt maddened. I was shaking and tense.
Sienna said gently “ Just let your body shake if it needs to. Let it go through what it needs to. Keep breathing.”
Sienna came and sat next to me. Reassured me, coached me through and reminded me I was safe.
I started to feel all the energy leave me. I literally couldn’t lift my arms, they felt like dead weights.
My body was deadened but the agitation and flashbacks still raged.
Sienna said “ If any thoughts come into you head, try and say them, externalise them.”
I made harrowing sounds, cries stuffed in. Memories flooding me… yet not cohesive memories, this was all feeling/body memories.
Sienna asked softly “ What are you holding in?”
Finally, FINALLY, I spat it out. In a small strangled voice I said “ Get Off Me.”
Sienna repeated my words in almost a whisper. “ Get off me.”
I dissolved. Sobbing, lost in that trauma, barely even in the room really. I was that small child again.
Sienna said “ Say it again, tell whoever it was again, say it again..”
I repeated in a small pitiful voice “ Get off me, Get off me…”
“ And again, get off me…” Sienna coached.
I said it again, louder and a bit stronger but still a bit pathetically to be honest “ GET OFF ME!”
Sienna said “ yep, good. I want you to move those arms, because you have got the power now. Don’t collapse in on yourself. This is a different time. You are safe now. What would you have done at the time if you could have?”
I said “ I don’t know. Um… I’d have gone away.”
Sienna said “would you have pushed them?”
Sienna asked “ How hard?” She picked up the large floor pillow and held it in front of me.
“ Show me how hard”.
I laughed, feeling self-conscious.
I pushed the pillow away weakly.
Sienna said “ harder”.
She made me push it over and over until I sat back on the sofa, too tired to do anymore.
I just sat, with no more energy left. Tears blinding me. But I was coming out of the trauma place. Starting to be a bit more present.
Sienna smoothed and played with my hair, pushing away strands from my face as she sometimes does.
She said “ That was a lot there, a lot came up. No many words but a lot came there, do you think so?!
Sienna asked “ Have you ever been able to say that before?”
I shook my head. Never. I’ve never uttered those words.
Sienna acknowledged “ That’s a big thing. And you are safe. And I want you to tell me you’re going to get strong.”
I repeated her words quietly “ I’m going to get strong.”
Sienna said “ Yes. We are going to do it together.”
I looked at Sienna and asked “ Do you think I ever really said that at the time?” (get off me)
Sienna pulled me into her arms.
Sienna said “ Hm, I think you probably didn’t, that’s the problem. I think you wanted to but there was nobody to listen. When you’re little you can’t get rid of folk who are stronger than you.”
I listened. Closed my eyes, absolutely exhausted.
Sienna looked down at me, “ Are you going to get some sleep tonight?”
I nodded. My eyes already closed. I could have fallen asleep right there.
Sienna said “ No one’s going to hurt you anymore.”
With the last 15 mins, I lay cuddled into Sienna. Listening to her speak and drifting in and out of tears.
When I left I was still sobbing. But it wasn’t active tears, it was more that my nervous system hadn’t returned to baseline yet. I could NOT stop crying for most of the journey home, even though I was no longer in the trauma place or even particularly sad… my body just hadn’t got the memo to stop crying!
My left hand-side jaw ached. And the trauma release left me utterly spent. I had not an ounce of energy left in me. The next day I was in SO much pain. My whole body felt trampled and my bones throbbed with pain.
I’m not sure why at this stage I feel so surprised by the physicality of trauma releasing from the body. But it always does astound me. I suppose because there’s always a buried belief held within that mental health stuff is somehow preventable, “ in your head”, in your imagination, a result of a hysterical personality etc.
But trauma is pervading and grips every cell of your body. Releasing the poison of trauma from your body is one hell of a fight.
Do you know what’s strange? Having just listened to that session which was just 6 days ago, I didn’t really remember it had happened.
I don’t know when I forgot it, sometime on Thursday maybe? I’m not sure… How could I forget that session? Jesus Christ!
All I know is that this week has been hugely tough. Time has felt disjointed. I’ve remembered certain events that stand out in the week but everything in between is just gone. Good old dissociation.
I adore my therapist. She did an amazing job this week. And most weeks. She has continued to support me- sometimes daily and it’s such a gift to have someone so dedicated by my side.