“…What year is it?” I asked J. near the beginning of our session as I tried hard to ground myself to reality. I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe.
“What year do you think it is?” He, being the therapist that he is, never gives me a straight answer; always opting for me to figure it out myself. Usually, I appreciate this about him but Tuesday, it gravely annoyed me.
“…2006?” I hesitated before answering because I was attempting to logic my way out of a middle school flashback; my efforts were futile.
“What makes you think it’s 2006?” he asked. No judgement, merely curious and wanting to gain understanding.
I don’t remember my answer but I do know that was the beginning of the end for me, at least that day. That session ended with an intense panic attack (brought on by another flashback) that took me a little longer than normal to come back from, even with J.’s help.
After reminiscing on the session, I grew frustrated with myself. Even while in the session, after the panic attack, I was frustrated.
“I should have better control!” I yelled at J.
“You will, with time. You’ve already come so far.”
“No! I need to be better, stronger…” (cue mini panic attack)
“Give it time. You’re still healing.”
As healing starts or progresses, you are going to hurt. It’s ironic and sounds a little backwards, doesn’t it? You get a little stronger and unknowingly put ridiculously high expectations on yourself to do everything you can to prevent yourself from ever being triggered by the trauma, and when a trigger or painful memory materializes physically in the form of a panic attack or rage or fits of crying spells at odd moments, you think you’ve failed and punish yourself.
But as you heal, after a while, you find that your old coping skills don’t work anymore. You get tired of your arms stinging in the shower after a relapse; the harshness of life you used to chase away with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, or with a rum and Coke, doesn’t go down as easy anymore. For me, I’m finding that the places I finish growing up in are the same ones in which I heal.
Abandonment and abuse in childhood gives way to independence and strength in adulthood. Sometimes, the scars itch, and on days when I’m tired of being strong I scratch them, but they are more often forgotten memories, reminders of where I’ve been and how much I’ve grown. I still have a ways to go, as repressed memories emerge from the past like the Loch Nest monster rising from the murky, dark waters into the autumn sun. Is it scary? Hell yea, but I’m healing. Come hell or high water, I’m healing even though it hurts.