I first started dealing with the abuse in therapy 5 years ago. I was 20, and I’d recently gotten away from my abusive father and the traumatizing state psychiatric hospital he’d had me involuntarily committed to. I was a mess. I was starving myself to death, self-harming, and dissociating almost every time I blinked. I was terrified. Luckily, I found a good therapist who specialized in EMDR.
The first time we processed a memory, I was even more terrified than usual. I had very few clear memories at that point, so we chose to go with the earliest abuse memory I had: my father sexually abusing me in the bathtub and then holding my head underwater until I passed out.
At the end of the session, when we’d finished processing the memory, my therapist wanted me to reimagine the scene to include adult-me going in and rescuing child-me, pulling her out of the bathtub and holding and comforting her.
I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t identify that child’s pain and fear as my own. In a sense, those feelings weren’t my own: I had split them off into another child. I couldn’t imagine pulling three-year-old me out of that bathtub, even symbolically, because I couldn’t bear to hold her and feel her pain as my own. I wanted to revise that memory so that someone else, someone not-me, could hold that child and that pain. My own mother had allowed herself not to know what my father was doing, leaving me an emotional orphan. She wouldn’t pull me out of the bathtub–not in 1989 or in 2006. I started imagining my therapist as the person who could pull me out of that bathtub and be a parent to me.
I didn’t realize consciously that I wanted that so intensely. Without realizing why, I engaged more and more in behaviors that could prompt rescue. I ended up hospitalized over and over for my eating disorder, self-harm, and suicide attempts. I tried to stop, but every time I felt overwhelmed or scared or lonely or angry or anything else unpleasant, I’d revert to the old patterns of behavior.
Once I realized (with a lot of help from an excellent therapist) that I did those things because I wanted someone to save me from the memories I was stuck in, I was able to stop the self-destructive behaviors. Oh, it wasn’t all rose-colored glasses and Pollyanna stories. There were a lot of relapses and near-surrenders, and I still struggle with the urges. But the realization of my rescue fantasy was a powerful step. Without that, I would probably spend most of my life in hospitals.
Where I’m left now, though, feels worse than the self-destructive cycle: at least self-destruction is numbing. Now I feel all these feelings, and right now they’re so intense I can’t even figure out what I’m feeling. It’s just a whirlwind of horrible feelings. Knowing that no one can rescue me induces this heavy hopelessness. I want to rescue myself, but I don’t know how. My head’s underwater, and I can’t hold my breath much longer.
Maybe one day soon I’ll figure this out. Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to pull that little girl out of the bathtub.