I was a psychological mess when I walked into Kevin’s office, barely in my body and just trying to keep myself alive. It felt as if I was literally standing behind myself as if I was witnessing somebody else’s life from behind them. I was driven by an insatiable need to tell him everything that I had kept secret for thirty years. At the same time, I wanted him to stop the memories from coming. Because I had buried everything so deep and vowed never to talk, I kept being shocked by what I said to him out loud. My voice was sometimes unrecognizable to me. I would stop and ask, “Did I just say that?” It was a paradox. I couldn’t believe that I was saying those words, but I also knew that what I was saying felt true.
I was terrified. Overwhelmed by emotions, I doubted that I could ever be “fixed.” But no matter how hopeless I felt, I was even more desperate to survive. My goal was to live until the next minute, and then try another minute. I was living on adrenaline and pure survival instinct.
In the first two weeks of therapy, Kevin was assessing me, but we were both deciding if we were a good fit. Behind the scenes, he was putting together a team of collaborators to help him learn techniques for working with a trauma survivor. He needed to decide whether he could commit to seeing me through a long and painful healing process. I needed to decide if I could trust him enough to let him work with me. Talk therapy would have to wait. Our first order of business was to craft a solid plan to keep me safe. That was not going to be a quick or easy task.
Among other things, he diagnosed me with complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Kevin gently told me that considering the severity of my symptoms, it would probably take years to work through my trauma. I was astounded. I had no idea what any of my diagnoses meant in detail, but I was sure nothing could be so difficult that it would take years to fix. I told him I was certain I would be better in a year. He didn’t argue; he just nodded his head, knowing that was what I needed to tell myself.
Six years ago, I didn’t have any idea what PTSD was. Now it’s a common topic on the news as our military personnel come back from active duty. Back then, it wasn’t talked about in the mainstream media. Besides, how could I have PTSD? I hadn’t just come back from a war. I knew Aria had a slight case of it after her accident, but that was a direct result of the trauma of being hit by a car. I was sure that given some time, I would settle back down and Kevin would realize that I was just anxious and depressed. Before long, I would be back to my normal routine.
But almost as soon as I started therapy, repressed memories started erupting faster than I could deal with them. I was barely functioning at home and still couldn’t be left alone for more than a few hours at a time. I was constantly being triggered and in crisis. I was resisting medication to help ease my anxiety and depression, and I was completely overwhelmed.
Day after day, I recounted acts of unimaginable abuse to Kevin. I often dissociated when I was recalling events. That kept a nice scrim between my memories and me, but by dissociating I was allowing myself to forget what we were talking about. But my mind wanted to heal, so each time I forgot, I would have to go through the process of remembering the incident again, and then again, until I could hold onto the details long enough to talk a little bit about the abuse. I was still using denial and repression to cope. Even on the days that it seemed, I could begin to hold onto what we talked about during therapy, I would quickly stuff the memories away and forget them again. During those early years, we started a tremendous number of sessions by going back to try and remind me of what we had just talked about.
Not only was I dealing with the PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety, but the directives that had been programmed into me were becoming relentless. My handlers had worked very hard to instill messages about how to hurt myself if I talked. Kevin’s endless task was to keep reminding me that those instructions were nothing more than programming, and I didn’t have to listen to them anymore. Every time I heard a directive telling me to cut myself, I practiced saying, “No, that’s just programming and I’m not going to do it.” It took years before I could trust myself to weed out what was programming, from what was my own desperate yearning to end my emotional and psychological pain. My therapist, my family, and I, all worked hard to end the cycle of crisis that had overtaken my life. I had a solid safety plan in place, was learning distress tolerance skills, and was getting ready to begin the arduous journey of processing my past.
Excerpt from the book Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph