Triggered or Freefall continued.
I am on a two-week break from BN (Almost done, I see him Friday). Our last session was spent discussing my recovering the existential free fall memory and was very helpful. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what came up and what it was like for me. It was a calm session, but a very intimate one as we discussed my feelings. I also managed more eye contact then I’ve probably done in the last five years put together. 🙂 Amazing what you see when you look. BN and I both recognized what a landmark this was and how hard we worked to get there. We also spent some time discussing my pattern (often unconscious, BN is pointing this out to help me become conscious of it) of being worried about my behavior and how he feels about it. He sees it as an attempt on my part to mold myself to the other person’s expectations so I will not be abandoned. We have been working on me accepting that I cannot control another person and what they do or if they choose to stay or leave me. Awful realization knowing you cannot control that which you are desperate to control. My safety lies in knowing I can survive whatever happens, but more importantly can trust someone to stay even when I’m being myself and not focusing only on their needs. We had a good laugh near the end of the session when I confessed, a bit embarrassed that I was afraid I was making too much eye contact. 🙂 BN was quick to point out what I was doing.
So we left on a very connected note. In fact, BN told me he was only going away for a short time but that he was trying to take turns on who missed appointments. I have been aware for a long time that BN has to kind of pick and choose who misses appointments and who gets them when his schedule is shortened by time off, but I’ve come to trust his instincts over the years. He uses some kind of complicated rotation plan, based on a number of factors, I think. The last several months I have noticed that no matter how often he was going away, he has still been managing to fit me in weekly (which is our normal frequency) and have been very grateful. The work has been very difficult and draining and making more than a week would be a strain, so I think BN has had me on the “no rotate” list. So when he told me he wouldn’t be able to give me an appointment next week, I told him I was about due and the timing was good as I was doing a lot of processing but was feeling very connected.
The thing was, though (you saw this coming didn’t you? Of course, you did, I have intelligent and perceptive readers!) I found myself really missing him and feeling very sad. As I struggled with the feelings (I mean, who in their right mind just accepts their feelings?!?) I realized that there were still a lot of feelings floating around from the memory I just integrated. So there was the fear of just disappearing, of not being reflected and of being discarded. And BN wasn’t just skipping an appointment, he was skipping an appointment to go visit his grandchildren and spend time with his family. As an adult I am genuinely happy that he’s going to do that. The grandchildren live a long way away and he does not get to see them all that often. I just want to be clear that from an adult standpoint, I don’t think BN is doing anything wrong. Actually, he’s doing something good by taking care of himself and his family. But little AG was not so happy. When we go as deep as we needed to go to access that memory, the connection is so strong and on such an intimate level, that I feel like BN is “mine.” But you can’t live in the deep. And when we come back to shore, BN returns to everyone else to whom he belongs. Again, as an adult, I get that he is “mine” for the 50 minutes of our sessions (can’t complain, mind you, it’s rare to have someone else so focused on your needs as an adult), and that he has a life outside his job to which he needs to attend. As a matter of fact, ignoring that life is exactly what would make him unable to attend to me. But emotionally? I was little, remembering those feelings of being left behind and discarded. It felt scary to have him be away.
The feelings persisted enough that I emailed him very early Tuesday morning (well very late Monday night, it was 1 AM because I was having trouble sleeping). I expressed my sadness and yearning, recognized that it was really feelings from the past, and asked him to respond and remind me of the present. His response came the following evening and just reinforced why I love the man so much. He told me that the sadness and yearning was the sign of a connection; a connection that existed even when we were separated. He ended by telling me he would see me at our next appointment. It was exactly what I needed to hear (and made me feel heard). And I could see my progress in being able to NOT hear “Now go away until our next session” and instead heard “We’ll see each other soon and we know when that is, it’s a commitment.” That calmed little AG and restored my sense of being safe and secure.
I volunteer on a Crisis Hot Line and twice a year we have Advanced Training. It’s a 2 1/2 hour session and usually they cover a topic of interest, as well as provide any updates or information the volunteers need to know. They’re usually pretty interesting and provide a great opportunity to see other volunteers and talk. I enjoy them. Advanced Training was last Thursday night. That Tuesday, during my volunteer shift, I had my annual assessment, which had gone well, then had a good shift. I had also recorded some example calls to be used in training, which had gone really well and proved to be a lot of fun (especially the examples of what NOT to do.) So I went to Advanced Training pretty relaxed and looking forward to it. In retrospect, a bit of a mistake. 🙂 I was blindsided by what happened, especially as I very rarely get triggered any more by my volunteer work.
The agency was involved in a new initiative to reach out to mothers with pre- or postpartum depression. Ads are being run in the Syracuse area, urging pregnant or postpartum women struggling with depression to call our Crisis line for help. So part of the presentation was a discussion of how a mother’s depression can affect a child’s development. This was a little tough as I have had to come to grips with how my issues affected my kids the last few years, but I was doing ok. Then they got to the video. The video showed the “still face” experiment with a doctor narrating. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the “still face” scenario starts with a mother having a normal, attuned interaction with her baby. She is seated facing the baby and responds to what the baby is doing and the child is visibly enjoying herself. Then the mother turns away, but when she turns back towards the baby, she hold very still, with no facial expression and does not respond to anything the baby does: bids for attention, attempts to engage in their normal activities, or even signs of distress. The unresponsive part lasts maybe two minutes tops. Two minutes that felt like about 10 years. The doctor was detailing each thing the baby did. It only took a few seconds for the child to notice the lack of response. She tried to get her mother to play, then she pointed, an action which earlier caused her mother to look at what she was pointing at. When those things did not work, the baby started reaching towards her mother, only to be ignored. The the baby started emitting distress, first in the form of crying and as it intensified, in arching her whole body.
Not only was the doctor explaining all the negative effects on the baby, other people in the room were reacting to the video. Most of the volunteers are women and many of the women in the room were mothers. People were literally exclaiming out loud how terrible this was. By then I was triggered so badly by watching the baby get no response and no reflection, that I started to fall completely apart. I really wanted to flee the room, but the thought of everyone looking at me in the moment was terrible (just a bit of shame there). But I also wasn’t feeling like I could control the crying. All I could think about was that these people were so horrified watching a child experience this as an aberration in her mother’s behavior, for a very short amount of time. And the horror of what I had experienced broke over me. I had this happen, again and again, while trying to deal with acts of abuse. I am fairly certain my disconnects when on for longer than two minutes. And ironically, some anger at everyone’s reactions of how horrible this was; I wanted to scream at them that they had no idea. There were a few moments when I felt like I belonged to an alien species, my experience setting me apart and beyond understanding.
So I sat there, surreptitiously wiping away the tears and chewing through my lower lip. At one point, the woman doing the presentation was standing right behind me, so I had leaned my face on my hand, so that my face was as covered as possible. I then looked up at the screen, where a picture of the depressed mothers were, and realized I was exactly mirroring the position of one of the mother’s in the ad. “Oh good” I thought, “at least I’m getting it right.” The absurdity helped a bit. No one was really noticing, except the head of the program who is also a friend, and knows my history. As things moved on to other topics I was able to regain my composure and by the end of the meeting was feeling calm enough to return to being my usual wise-cracking self.
The meeting ended and I popped into the ladies’ room. I was kind of, sort of, trying not to talk to anyone on my way out. But when I came out of the bathroom, the head of the program was in the kitchen and saw me. She is truly a lovely, kind, compassionate woman but I knew that she had just gone through a very ugly week and I didn’t want to give her one more thing to deal with. And obviously, with that much shame floating around, anything I might need felt like WAY TOO MUCH. But she asked me if I was ok. I started to answer her and it came flooding back and I just started crying in the middle of the kitchen. She has that wonderful ability to wait for you, while radiating acceptance. I finally managed to tell her that I had just recovered a memory of not being reflected by my father after the abuse and that watching the video has badly triggered me. She just opened her arms and held me for a minute. I calmed down a bit, and told her thank you and headed out to my car.
I made it to the driver’s seat and closed the door and started to melt down. I was struggling to handle the emotions and stay present. The terror started to spike again but in the middle of it, I remembered something BN has told me several times lately. That what I am dreading so badly has already happened. I actually said out loud “It already happened, it’s in the past. You’re safe now.” The ride home was spent trying to calm down. At some point during the ride, I realized that I was really struggling to handle my feelings and I needed to call BN. My cell phone has been acting up a bit lately, so I wanted to get home first and use the house phone. I walked through the door and picked up the phone and left a message with BN’s service. He had assured me that he would be available except when he was flying. I was waiting to hear back when my daughter came downstairs. I told her I had gotten really triggered at the training and was waiting on a call back from BN. About 15 minutes later, the phone rang but with a strange ID. When I picked up it was the answering service, telling me that BN’s backup therapist, let’s call him BB, wanted to know if it was ok if he called back at 9:30. I just kind of stuttered “Oh, BN isn’t available?” and she said no, that BB was covering. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just said yes. My daughter wanted to run out and get some food, so I asked if we could just wait for the call. So we waited. And waited. By 10:15, still no call. By then, I was actually fairly calm (you can only maintain that agitated a state for so long). Now, I hate making an emergency call, especially after hours, and not being available when the therapist calls back. So I called the answering service again. This time I left a message that BB did not need to call.
Any time you leave a message, they ask for a number and this time I left my cell phone. My daughter and I headed out to pick up some food we had ordered and of course, on the way, my cell phone rings. It was BB. He called to just check and make sure I hadn’t fallen through the cracks and he apologized for not calling back. I told him that I really was feeling better and we talked for a few minutes. I gave him a brief description and told him about recognizing it was in the past. He was very encouraging about my moving through it and coming out the other side, which has been a HUGE theme for me in therapy lately. BN keeps explaining that I never had the experience of having these feelings come up and then being present when they moved through me and faded back down. I always left when they got too terrifying, but that reinforced that I couldn’t survive them, so I had worked really hard to avoid any situation which would bring them up. That it was so important that I had managed to stay and tolerate the feelings without dissociating, so that I had the experience of surviving them and knowing these feelings wouldn’t destroy me. BB did a great job of affirming that. So while I didn’t get to talk to BN, I was glad to have talked to BB, who is a good guy and radiates that same calm peace as BN. (BB and BN are close friends and have known each other since undergrad days. I once told BN after talking with BB on the phone that they were twins sons of different mothers. BN really liked that one.) I knew there were feelings I would need to talk through with BN (which are starting to push on me as Friday approaches; it’s why I am trying to finish this post, I think I need to speak about this) but I felt like I could make it through the break.
I went to work the next day and accidentally left my cell phone in my car. I ended up working a little late that night, trying to finish up a video tutorial so I got to my car around 6:30 PM. When I picked up my phone, to my complete shock, I saw BN’s name on a text. When I opened it up, it said that he had just seen my call and wanted me to know I was heard. Which was awesome. BN doesn’t initiate contact except for schedule changes and since I had talked to BB, I just assumed I wouldn’t hear from him. But he knows me, and knew I would be dealing with fears of not being seen or heard and having one of us disappear. His care in this situation meant so much to me. But best of all, it cemented the fact that I am in the present and things are different now. I have someone who is focused on my needs, is paying attention, is attuned and provides a clear reflection. A treasure whose worth is beyond measuring.
END NOTE: I have really been struggling to focus on getting this written, as if every time I start to talk about it, my brain slides right off it. But at the same time there has been this urgency around needing to talk and needing to be seen. It’s been quite the tug of war. Friday’s session may prove to be more interesting than I expected. 🙂