Friday, July 26, 2019

A Pitch for Therapy

There are two things I know. The first is, the truth will set you free. The second is, everyone could use some therapy. 

A skilled therapist holds up the truth and compares it with the story you've believed about your life and what you believe about the world. I began benefiting from this comparison when I went to talk therapy to address sexual abuse I experienced when very young. I was shown the difference between my story (that it was my fault) and the reality: it was my dad’s fault. I learned I could stop punishing myself and after four years with my counselor, it felt like someone had cut loose a bag of bricks I’d been carrying. Life felt wonderfully light. 

Years later, my body started sending me signals we had some unfinished business. Fatigue and migraines were my constant reminder and I researched self-care. I eventually found my way to an EMDR therapist who could help process trauma out of my body, which tests had shown maintained high levels of cortisol all the time. If you aren't familiar with cortisol, it's what your body releases to help you escape if you're being chased by wolves, but having it circulate in your body on the regular makes you sick. Early trauma taught my body to keep those levels high because more trauma was always on its way. 

So I began with much frustration towards my "slow to catch on" body. Why couldn’t it get the memo? I’m safe now. Why couldn’t I feel the truths I knew in my head, deep down in my gut? I wanted so badly to feel safe in every cell of my body and I didn’t know if I’d ever get there. 

This is me with my Grandpa, where I was always safe.

I want to share that I'm on my way! With therapy that keeps me present in my body, a reunion has begun between the body and soul I separated to survive.  

When the abuse started, I only separated from my body during the experience, but eventually, I gave up on going back. It wasn't worth it when all my body ever did was hurt. So I left it behind, even though I dragged it around, but never looked it in the eye. If my body said it needed something, my first response was always, No. 

I banked on my brain. WE would go places. And my brain was kind enough to forget the abuse, so we got along fine. But a brain without a body isn’t much at all. Yoga was where I gave the first friendly side-glances to my body. There were some bashful smiles and then a punishing diet and finally, more attention to what my body had to say. 

Observing my body led to a fledgling appreciation. One day, I was surprised by the thought, It’s not perfect, but it’s mine. By the time I was in EMDR, I wanted to embrace my body, but still felt furious about it’s ongoing struggles, especially the sexual ones. 

So I’d been scapegoating my body all along, despite acknowledging my father's responsibility years ago. If only my body had been able to absorb the abuse without being hurt by it, we could have a good life. But no. It was vulnerable and got hurt and was still not okay today. I felt my body had a terrible track record and there was no reason to think I'd ever find my breakthrough. 

My husband, Brian, asked once, “So you feel doomed around your health?” 

And I said, “No, it’s much more than a feeling. It’s an awful, aching knowing.”

From this place, therapy again held up truth for me and this time, it was getting deeper than my brain. Here are the truths that are dawning on my tired heart and feeling like brand-spankin' new life:

  • Where I felt my father had won and I could never defeat him, I saw I had triumphed the day I told my mom.
  • Where I felt doomed about my physical struggles, I learned they could change as quickly as my requirement to visit my dad every other weekend.
  • I'd always felt it was a lie to tell myself it was over. In therapy, I realized that THAT is indeed over. While I may be victimized in the future, it will not be as a little girl. I will know what’s happening is wrong. It won’t happen over and over. In my home. And it will not be my fuckin’ father. No, I can finally hold little Kendra (because in this moment we are all the ages we ever were) and promise her it’s over.
  • I felt afraid of losing Brian. It’s just now occurring to me that my father threw away everything good about our relationship for sex, but that doesn't mean Brian will. He’s staying.
  • I felt I had to work a miracle to keep Brian, achieve perfect sexuality by erasing every trace of trauma. I had to right the wrong. Well, I can’t turn back time, so this will not be possible. The truth is, I don’t have to work miracles to have happiness. I can just have it. 

These new beliefs are like seeds my counselor planted and now, their roots are sinking in deep. I'm writing this because I want you to know if you are left with deep, deep KNOWINGS from trauma, they can be changed. My therapist calls it blowing them out of the water. And we’re doing just that.

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