Is a body REALLY necessary?
I had a difficult session with BN yesterday and left not feeling too great. Through no fault of his, or mine for that matter, I realize when I can manage some objectivity, just the subject matter that came up. I’m writing about it here to try and sort through some of what happened and what it is I am feeling and fearing.
If you have been reading my recent posts, you know I have been dealing with a lot of medical issues as of late. I thought that I had been coping fairly well with all the tests and doctor visits but found out in yesterday’s session, not so much. I had a nerve induction test last week, which I handled just fine during the procedure. Ironically enough, since I am often working very hard to manage off the charts internal activation, medical professionals are always telling me what a wonderful patient I am. Well, yes, because learning to freeze and endure can come in handy in some situations. I am better than I used to be, I am not dissociating, I manage to stay present, I am conscious of my breathing and keeping it slow and deep to stay calm. I spend time focusing on being an adult and safe, knowing that the person is there to help and any discomfort is unfortunately necessary but is not done despite my needs but to meet them. So the procedure went well, I had a rational, calm discussion with the doctor about the results and how we were going to proceed with treatment. (I am typing with my nifty new wrist braces. I am torn between going goth or going for a Aragorn vambrace look but either way my wrists feel better.) But… the experience was still one in which I laid on a table while two different people repeatedly hurt me without me knowing how long it would last or how painful each jolt would be. The pain wasn’t really significant, it was more the anticipation that it was going to hurt. So as I walked out to my car, I realized I was heading for a meltdown.
I handled it well, or at least better than I have in the past. I recognized I was triggered and why, decided it was reasonable all things considered and didn’t fight the feelings. So I sat in my car and cried. After a few minutes had passed, I realized I wasn’t calming down on my own and needed help to ground. I grabbed my cell phone and realized that BN had just started a session and wouldn’t be able to return my call for 50 minutes. Not good, since I needed to go to work. Tried my sister, who didn’t pick up (found out later she was on a customer support call), then remembered a friend who might be available. I called her and explained what was going on (yes, ok, I apologized for bothering her a number of times, what’s your point? :)) She was lovely, and very understanding and talked to me until I was able to ground and calm down. (If you’re reading, thank you again! You were a lifesaver!) All of this went well enough that I hadn’t spoken to BN about it the last time I had seen him (especially since we had ended up focusing on my mom).
But I went for my annual exam at the gynecologist at the end of which I found out I had to return next Monday for a uterine biopsy (extremely routine, I’ve been through this before and am not at all worried about the results). This is NOT the most comfortable of procedures, nor are the circumstances under which it is done such to set someone with my history at ease. The last time I had the procedure performed, around four years ago, had also been followed by a melt down in my car. So knowing what had just happened after the nerve induction and facing the biopsy, I thought I would talk to BN to see if there was anything I could do to avoid having these reactions.
And so I brought it up in my session yesterday. What was I thinking?! As we talked about it, BN was very encouraging, both in how well he thought I had handled it and in his belief that as I built up experiences where nothing bad happened, where I was in control (at one point we did talk about the fact that I was stressing because I didn’t know how much longer the test was going to go on and that it would have been ok, and even appropriate to ask) that I would no longer associate the circumstances with the emotional memories of terror and powerlessness.
This was all making a lot of sense and was helpful but the longer we discussed it the more distressed and uncomfortable I became. The more kindness and compassion that BN showed me, the more upset I got. When I stopped to check in and see how I was feeling, I realized I had been holding in more feelings that I realized about going through all these appointments. In my rational, adult self, I am clear that while these problems do need to be treated, this is not life-threatening and many people deal with similar problems, so I don’t need to be a drama queen and make a big deal out of it, just to get on with things. But the truth is, and what I have been hiding from myself (evidently not all that successfully) is that no matter how often I decide how I SHOULD feel in any given situation, reality has this annoying way of being what it is.
I do have a harder time going through this than a “normal” person would. My trauma background means that there are triggers and difficulties that might not be there for other people. And as I sat with the emerging feelings, the strongest of them all was, you guessed it, shame.
I told BN that all these medical appointments are so horrible because they force me to acknowledge and pay attention to the fact that I have a body. And then when I talk about how it’s all making me feel, I have to talk to him about my body. This feels like a living hell. I hate my body. I don’t mean that in a “gosh, I wish it looked different” kind of way, even though I do. I mean I hate having a body, I hate that its part of me. There is such a deep sense of shame about my body. For the longest time I thought it was about my weight. I am very overweight. OK, fat. The official medical term is morbidly obese. And yes, there is a lot of shame and disgust about my appearance and lack of discipline, and … well, a lot of you know the drill. But as I have started to look at this more closely, I realize it runs deeper than that. I do NOT want to have a body, no matter what it looks like.
Just as for a very long time, I believed that relationships only brought pain, I think I am learning that I believe that bodies only betray you and allow you to be hurt. My body was something I had to leave to escape what was happening. IT was the problem. If I didn’t have one, then the abuse wouldn’t be happening to me. I know this isn’t rational, but I think I have spent my life trying to act as if my body is not really somehow a part of me.
But BN pointed out some very important truths today. In order to live fully, we must be able to feel. But feelings happen in our bodies. So how do you live a full life cut off from your body? At one point I was saying how profoundly uncomfortable discussing all this was. That I was listening to what he was saying and it was all making sense, but I had this simultaneous sense that I was fighting just to stay in the room. That my sense of shame in discussing my body was so profound that I was fighting a constant battle to not flee. BN told me that he knew how difficult it could be, but that it was important. That I needed to stay connected and attached, to be with someone to break the sense of shame. That my instinct when I felt that shame, was to retreat into my head to get away from my feelings but that broke not only my attachment to myself, but by necessity, my attachment to him as well. But that being alone would only reinforce the sense of shame.
Then he spent some time talking about how so many of my recent experiences were forcing me into an awareness of my body when I was in an activated state, and one which resonated with difficult emotional memories. That there were other times where I could experience being in my body when it felt good. I ended up talking about these amazing rainforest showers in the spa on the cruise ship I was just on which included scents as well as water effects and how amazing they had felt. That the spa was a good place for me to focus on being present in my body. BN thought that was really good and encouraged me to seek out activities such as a massage or yoga so that I could build up good experiences in my body. (Yes, my mind boggled at the thought of me doing yoga. :D)
This all sounds lovely and supportive doesn’t it? BN seemed very comfortable. I know because I made a very conscious effort to check because I was totally convinced he was not happy. But it was horrible, I was so consumed with shame, that it was physically difficult to remain in my seat and I could barely look at BN (he had on navy blue socks, that’s all I got). I told him how I was feeling and he was very reassuring but it was hard to get past the fear I was feeling. I made an appointment for next week and told him he would probably be hearing from me. He did. Last night. Yet another email checking to make sure he was still there and we were ok. So very odd to absolutely KNOW something but still feel something so different. I know from experience that I need the reassurance, the experience of it no matter how ridiculous it seems, but of course that feeds into the shame because here I am again being needy. But he is just the same steady person he always is. At times like this, I am actually grateful for the boundaries, because I really don’t think that any level or amount of reassurance would stop these feelings right now and I’m grateful that the limits on our relationship make it harder for me to burn him out.
As I struggled with my feelings last night, I realize that I have circled back around once again to the fact that on a very deep level, I carry beliefs about being repulsive and disgusting. But this time, I am seeing how strongly they are related to my physicality. I had this whole rationale going through my head. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but BN is in excellent shape and leads a fairly active life, so my thinking was running along the lines of “how can someone like him, who does exercise and eat right NOT be revolted by someone like me? Oh yeah, he’s hiding it well because he’s my therapist, but you know it’s there. I mean, how long can he hold out?” About then it dawned on me, it was the same old fear. He would finally recognize my fundamental “badness” and abandon me. OK, so this is coming from me. The revulsion and disgust are mine.
I am trying to remember any particular shaming about my body but running into the problem that thinking about my body in any way makes me feel ashamed so I shy away. I was thinking about what he said about enjoying my body and realized THAT felt really wrong. It’s almost like somewhere along the way, I learned that a body is intrinsically evil, no matter what. So here I am, faced with the indisputable truth that I am my body, it is where I live, it is part of who I am and yet I carry such a deep sense of shame and revulsion about any aspect of my experience of it. I know what the truth is, that I should not be ashamed, that my body is valuable and I have every right to inhabit it, enjoy it and take care of it. Now I just need to learn to believe that…
At one point, when this was hitting me, the shame I was still having to wade through (yes, another chorus of “oh, how long will this take you?” is playing in my head :)) I covered my face with my hands and said “This is going to suck.” And BN quietly said “There are other possibilities.” I said “run them by me, I’d love to hear them.” To which he simply said, “it could NOT suck.” So here’s to it not sucking. I have at least one thing strongly in my favor; I hate shame even more than I hate my body and I suspect that if I fight through the shame, the hate will go with it. OK, make that two things, I have BN to help me through the shame. Poor body, I feel like I have been rather unkind to it. Thanks for listening, it feels better to have said all that.