I saw my new therapist again today, and she seems to be a good fit so far. We haven’t talked in depth about my DID diagnosis–we touched on it in my first appointment, and it didn’t really come up today. She does seem comfortable working with trauma issues, and I think that’s the most essential aspect right now.
She asked me for my thoughts about doing trauma work. I had to think about it and figure out what my preferences were and how to express them.
What I told her was that I prefer to work on particular traumatic incidents as they arise in reaction to things happening in my life now. For instance, feeling like I have to choose between the lesser of two evils often brings up guilt for me because I didn’t save my younger sisters from the abuse and was forced into complicity with it. There are a number of traumatic events that I’ve already dealt with, and they don’t often interfere with my life. My goal is (in general terms) to be more functional in my life, and I don’t think rehashing events I’ve already dealt with is going to help me toward that goal. Basically, I don’t want to do trauma work for the sake of doing trauma work.
Early on, I did do trauma work for its own sake. My middle sister had just disclosed the abuse we’d kept secret our entire lives. I was 19, and my whole world turned upside down. I’d built an entire identity around denial. I was dealing with self-harm and an eating disorder, but when professionals asked if I’d been abused, I flatly denied it. When my sister told, suddenly I couldn’t deny it anymore because to deny my experience would be to deny my sisters’ experience. I didn’t want to be complicit anymore.
I started seeing a therapist who specialized in EMDR and hypnosis. It was the first time I’d gone to therapy willingly, and I had no idea how to “do” therapy. The therapist and I did a lot of work around establishing safety before we started the trauma work, and that helped. But I was so out-of-tune with myself that I didn’t know I was feeling overwhelmed until I’d already done something self-destructive, and I had no idea how to pace myself or self-regulate my anxiety, panic, and PTSD symptoms.
Ultimately, my eating disorder got so severe that I ended up going to Austen Riggs, a residential treatment program that specializes in treating patients with treatment-resistant mental illness. There, the focus wasn’t entirely on the abuse; I focused more on the effects of the abuse on my relationships with myself, others, and the world. For the first time, I “got” therapy. For the first time, I felt like things were shifting in a positive direction.
That’s the kind of work I want to continue with: therapy aimed at greater functionality rather than therapy gratia therapy.