“How much do you want me to push you to comb through your past?” NT1.0 asked me today.
I didn’t know what to tell her. I sought her out because I need someone who has experience with trauma and dissociation, as those are the most present and pressing issues for me right now. But do I want to specifically focus on the past? I’m not sure.
The last time I did specific trauma/memory work was 2007-2008. I’d just gotten out of the state hospital my father had committed me to. I was so incredibly traumatized, both by my father’s abuse and the physical and sexual assaults in the hospital, that I couldn’t function. On the surface, I was functioning–I went back to college. But I was cutting myself to ribbons and starving myself to death. I thought I had to eat, sleep, and breathe memories. I thought it was the only hope of getting better. I pushed on even when my therapist questioned whether we needed to take a break on the memory work to focus on coping. I pushed on through ER trips and sutures. I pushed on despite metabolic shutdown from starving and purging. I pushed and pushed and pushed until it all fell apart.
I ended up at Riggs, and that saved my life. The therapy I did there was trauma-informed but not trauma-centric; i.e., we focused on more than just the traumas. We talked a lot about relationships, fear, ambivalence, choices. When it was relevant, my therapist would bring up the abuse–in fact, she was much more direct in asking me about it than my prior therapist had been. (Once, when I told her I felt like I couldn’t breathe, she asked me point-blank if I was having memories of oral sex.) It was really hard to discuss it more openly. With my previous therapist, I’d been vague about details (“He hurt me,” etc.), but my Riggs therapist pushed me to name what had happened to me. I thought it would kill me. But now, in retrospect, I’m glad she pushed me that way. Partly, it was that I couldn’t reclaim myself until I could name what other people had done to me. The other part was that I needed, on a core level, to say what had been done to me and have the other person be able to hold that, without making it about them or getting angry or abandoning me. I think it also helped because we only dealt with memories as they related to what was going on with me in the present–we didn’t go rooting around for them, but I learned it was safe to acknowledge them when they were present.
I’m not sure what I need now in regards to memories. I know I don’t want to focus entirely on old stuff, but I do want there to be space for it, too. I just don’t know what I want that space to be like. I guess we can figure it out as we go along.