The Room of Judgment
What a week it has been. There are so many stressors on so many levels. I thought I would be pondering elections or looking back on a year post-injury and yet here I am once again examining what seems to be a process slower than the ballot counters of Nevada (oh, look, I can make election jokes!) and that’s therapy. More specifically my experience with trauma and therapy.
When your trauma narrative starts at a young age it doesn’t just get better. In fact, it often becomes so much worse (I’m told it might eventually get better, I’m not convinced). For so long, all my emotions were dampened, and while it’s been a year of mindfully working on allowing them to exist each time they emerge in full force it feels like I’m back at day one.
I thought I was making progress and I think that’s why this round of setbacks hurts so much. Because after the week I have had, I feel I’ve done anything but make progress. Seriously, I suck at therapy.
It took me a long time to recognize how much I was struggling with the standard hour and even longer to bring up if going to a longer session was feasible. I did do that though and it has helped while simultaneously making me feel bad that I need more time. To add fuel to that fire it also became clear to me that once a week was not enough.
Therapy isn’t always a “real” relationship to me. It’s real during that hour session (or 1.5 hours in my case) but after that, it goes away until the next week rolls around. Between those sessions, I was convinced that I was too difficult to sit with week after week and I was going to be fired. Nothing helped. I finally found a way to ask to try more than once a week. I tried it and it calmed some of those insecurities I have that are a direct result of relearning how to be in a secure environment. Security in a relationship is so foreign to me that it brings out all the bullies. Anxiety, depression, ideation, hopelessness, emotional flashbacks, anger, insomnia, and whatever else can be thrown into the mix. It’s messy and ugly and makes me messy and ugly.
A couple of weeks ago I left my session dysregulated except I am high functioning so even my therapist often doesn’t know the bad state I exit our sessions. I did end up going back in a second time that week and we discussed what had set it off. We then discussed working on me speaking up and him checking in and I was even able to assert and share a small truth.
I don’t like to share my feelings. Historically, that has put me not just in trouble but in direct danger. So this felt like a big step. Like maybe now after a full year I can finally stop hiding behind my written words or even tell him how much reassurance I seem to need about it being okay to finally grieve. That I don’t understand the validation I seek about the losses I’ve incurred and that I don’t feel even he has a grasp on it. That I’m afraid no one believes me, even him. It’s a shitty thing to feel like your therapist doesn’t see or hear you and even shittier because it’s a result of your own doing. Like I’ve said, I suck at this therapy thing.
I don’t like myself for needing to go twice a week but I also keep pushing myself to reframe that it’s scary to ask for help and this is the first time in your life you are truly asking so, of course, you need more than what is “typical”.
Except that was last week’s belief and so much can change in a week. Therapy is cruel. It’s an uneven balance of power. You know that the therapist cares but up to a point. I mean, of course, sitting hour after hour holding space for others is not for everyone. They get to share what they want and based on their training and beliefs that can vary. Given the trauma work I’m doing I don’t work with a “blank slate” therapist and it’s the authentic experience they’ve endured in their own life that makes it easier to try and share my nightmare. You might be doing hard work and better than you think but you won’t hear that from your therapist randomly. That would be during the session. No mid-week text or after session text to remind you that you are in an alliance and they are there to walk the path beside you as you stumble to find your way. They call it boundaries, I call it inhumane.
So I’m stuck trying to make it work for me in a system not designed for me. I’ve said it so often, I never fit into the box. I’ve always created my own path. Often forged it with blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve rescued myself when my soul has been shattered. It’s because of this I get so angry and frustrated. I can’t seem to find what I need and building it on my own is exhausting.
My first appointment of the week was fine. It was okay that it ended up where it did because I knew I was coming back a second time. That second session really settled the anxiety and disappointment I’d often feel leaving the office that I didn’t speak up or say what I needed. In fact, the days in between were easier. Rumination decreased. There was more regulation that I could really pay attention to when things did start to devolve. I caught myself thinking how curious the brain is that by just knowing there’s another session it can calm down this much. Curiosity is a sign of progress. Except it didn’t last.
Something happened at home and with it, I dissociated. It’s something I’m working on. It’s a spectrum. We all zone out from time to time. Sometimes that’s where I am and other times I zone to a point that I’m far far away. Locked away while my brain keeps me in safe mode. It’s an old defense mechanism that was necessary and now learning to convince her that this is no longer in our best interest is part of the bigger picture to finding more peace. The thing is with this incident I noticed every step of what happened. It even led to memories jarring loose. I wasn’t happy about what had happened and terrified to share but I thought maybe this was the week I’d try to share with my therapist. If we are working on him being a secure base then this is an opportunity. After all, we had made a bit of progress last week.
I arrived and as I walked down the tiny hallway he stopped me to let me know we were going to be in a different room. Uh, okay. Here’s the thing, quick changes in routine is something I pride myself on managing well. Improv and my home life have taught me that scenes change all the time. I typically adjust well. Except this is therapy. This is supposed to be the one thing I do for myself. This is supposed to be all about me for once and here I was not being considered. Agency and choice are big themes in my life and I already feel as if I have very little choices in therapy (again, the imbalance of power and the not real relationship except in this designated time frame doesn’t help) and here I am with no choice and no consideration about my needs. Except it’s deeply ingrained in me to let things slide especially if they “shouldn’t” be a big deal. So I don’t say anything.
Then I see what room it is and I can feel my heart rate rise. I walk by it every week. I’ve written about it in essays I’ve crafted in classes. It’s a pretty room and the therapist who typically occupies it is well put together. Attractive perhaps? Definitely seems personable. All the things I am not. Week after week I walk by it being reminded how unpretty I am. How messy my mind is compared to this well-planned office. I hate it. I try not to look at it. I’m relieved when the door is closed. I don’t tell my own therapist. This is his colleague. I’m sure Christmas parties and office retreats are part of their relationship. A relationship that is much more balanced and fair than the one I’ll ever experience.
Now I’m being told I’ll be sitting in this room of judgment. I really tried to be okay. I even remarked that this was throwing me a bit. I’m really funny by the way so I’m sure what I looked like on the outside paired with my funny remarks was someone who was in complete control. For a split second I thought about the conversation just two weeks ago about being more assertive and my therapist not knowing how dysregulated I become and that thought led to another that maybe I should actually say how I feel. Then he made the remark that it really was a nice room. Welp! That just cut off my options.
I tried to engage in the session. I even said there are a few things we could discuss and I thought perhaps I should share something. Except I must not say things as directly as I think I do because he jumped on the other thing and of course I wasn’t going to say to him, “Hey, I think this other thing is really going to bother me because it kind of freaked me out and it’s an opportunity to practice sharing”. We both know I don’t have that skill set. To keep that solely on my shoulders is unfair. Probably even a big misstep on his part. I truly don’t know. What I do know is that I started to shut down. It was less about the topic and more about I couldn’t anchor myself anywhere in that fucking perfect room. Everywhere I turned there was something mocking me. Reminding me how much I’ve failed. That I’m so broken that I’m the client and this person and room are so perfect they are the professional. They have it together so they get to be in control.
By the end of the session, I couldn’t leave fast enough. Now I’m back to how I feel when it’s once a week session. Miserable. All my defenses are up and my feelings are on full blast as I try to allow them to exist. I cry for long periods of time and try to figure out how I’m going to make it through. I’ll email my therapist. It’s an okay thing to do with the understanding the response will be in session. That I understand because I bet people misconstrue “advice” over email and has led to some bad places for therapists everywhere. So I’ve done that. I even texted to confess my struggle with the room change. Of course, though, this is the heartless unbalanced side of therapy. The one where the therapist gets to decide if they respond. Where they get to be in control. So it’s radio silence until next time.
If there can be the next time. That’s the thing when I backslide. I don’t know that I can keep doing this. That the relationship we play out in session is a working lab and supposed to be a way to learn I can have secure relationships. Except I don’t know that I can endure the emotional pain and toll it takes on me. I also know that I won’t bring any of this up unless it is brought up for me. I need that lead in even if it’s just a few words. I don’t know if that will happen or that my emails are read or my text messages. It’s because the therapist doesn’t have to truly care in that way. This isn’t my friend or spouse. It’s a professional who is responsible for the time I’ve paid for and nothing more. When you don’t have secure relationships in your child or adult life and victimized this reality hurts in such a way that the pain is indescribable. Because what I really need for once in my life is someone besides me to show up. To give a damn. To not run away from ugly, misfit, messy self like everyone else has done.
If I don’t show up to therapy then I won’t know if there will be a repair. It’s a big fucking gamble and I’m being asked to take on all the risk. Not the therapist. They don’t have anything to lose. I don’t know that I’m brave enough and if I do show I’ll question if I’m just too senseless to see they don’t want to handle me as a client and then shame will set in as I walk by that practically perfect office as it judges me yet again. If I don’t show up then the pain increases because I don’t think I can handle more loss in my life and all the work I’ve done to turn back on my feelings, my humanity will be for nothing and I know in the end I’ll have to go back to being numb and never again will I choose to search for hope, for me. It feels impossible.
The rumination will kick in and my weekend will slow to a halt as I try to have self-compassion for struggling with the complexity of trauma. Just like Nevada, I guess I have no choice but to take it slow (oh, look another election joke!).