the power of distraction in therapy (some potentially triggering stuff in here too – nightmares, relatively graphic self injury talk…)

I was again reminded how much a slight distraction can help me open up in therapy.  De and I were covering some tough stuff (expected) so I brought a coloring book (I couldn’t find our crayons at home, but she came through on that front).  I think I had half expected her to read the stuff I had written to her.  Maybe I had even hoped she would read it before session, even though I consciously wanted to challenge myself to be able to disclose it verbally.  I was going to struggle through telling her about the content of the entry, so I brought the minion coloring book.  I also started off joking as we walked in (not my normal presentation, but I tend to use humor to off-set an uncomfortable situation) and she kept the laughter rolling into the beginning of the session.  I do much better with heavy subjects when they are offset by humor and distraction, so I was pleased she was willing to keep it going.  Then she broke it to me that she decided to see if I had written anything new this week.  She said she had not had a chance to read it all because she had not left herself much time.  She said she skimmed the entry, but there were some things that stuck out to her.  She wanted to leave it up to me if there was any way I had wanted to direct the conversation.  My head was still catching up with the fact that she had decided to check on her own if I had written anything.  I told her that I did not want to alert her to the entry because I had wanted to see if I could tell her about it, but I had wanted to leave it accessible to her in case I could not succeed in doing so.  I began nervously flipping through the coloring book as I told her I would let her direct things (I was suddenly way too flustered to do anything meaningful).  I settled on a picture and we began to talk.  She covered the main points she wanted addressed (coincidentally the same ones I had wanted to talk about), and I was able to give my honest responses to some of her question.  I found myself censoring less when I was concentrating on finding just the correct yellow for the minion.  The veil of self-consciousness was there, but not as inhibiting as it normally is.  A lot of the stuff that floats through my thoughts never makes it past my lips.  This time, some of the stuff that I really needed to say managed to come out.

She called me on my topic-shifting and avoiding some of the touchier things.  I think I was still able to laugh it off and switch back to what she was looking to hear about because my head was still playful from my humor earlier on.  Anyway, I managed to get back to talking about the important stuff.  The session flew by again… I think I made eye contact once or twice, but that’s ok.  It’s much easier to talk without eye contact.  Growing up, I was trained to look away.  Looking at someone was considered disrespectful, unless of course you were in trouble, then you had to look to make sure they knew you understood the gravity of the situation…

We covered self-injury.  We talked about it in terms of the addiction to it (I had mentioned the addiction in my entry, and she concurred).  She had me describe my “relationship” with it.  That was a concept I couldn’t really grasp though, and don’t think I managed to describe it in the manner she had asked… I skipped a lot of years, and she called me on it.  I back-tracked and tried to cover the main points…  When she asked where the initial introduction to cutting came from, I explained that I did not really remember, but knew I had written about it years ago.  I started to tell her the story of the table (the one I only remember because I had read it over and over again).  She asked if I had been introduced to self harm by someone else, or if it had just appeared as a coping mechanism randomly on it’s own.  That’s when I remembered my old recurring nightmare.  I told her of the dream where a guy came into our house, but it was also a mall.  He was killing people.  My aunt pulled me into the little bathroom at the front of the house and closed the door in hopes of hiding.  He shot her several times through the door, then sat me on the sink.  He used a Swiss Army knife to start carving intricate patterns into my legs.  That always signified the end of the dream.  When she asked, I could not remember if anyone around me had ever hurt themselves like that, but I thought not.  I think I may have been 5 or 6 when I started having that dream.  It lasted for many, many years.  I did not start hurting myself until I was about 13 or 14 though.  I was reminded of it at about that age when one of the times I accidentally walked into the corner of the table, it suddenly stopped the inner turmoil.  She had suggested that the physical pain stopped the emotional.  I had to think about that for a second.  I never feel pain when I self-harm.  If it starts to hurt, I don’t follow through.  It’s only ever accomplished if there is no pain with it.  I think I may register the pain at some level, but it’s never consciously felt.  I think it’s just the body shock of pain receptors going off that quiets my mind.   And nothing else works as immediately and as completely as self harm does, even when it’s not working as it should (back to the addiction piece).  Much like a substance addict, cutting is always “chasing a high” so to speak.  I almost always need more than the previous time, and more intensity, just to get the same relief.  If it’s pretty bad, then I need it more intensely and more often.  That last really bad time, I was cutting about every 15 minutes.  The only reason I paused that time was because the blood stopped and it frustrated the hell out of me that I could not get more to materialize (kinda happens when you lose a lot of your volume)… But I digress.  I told De this in somewhat more detail, but still have difficulty talking about it too graphically (mostly out of shame).  It was validating to hear her responses to some of what I said, but I also worried that at times I said too much.  Having been on both sides of the desk (and assuming others can be as empathetic as myself), I did not want to give too much detail with a lot of it.  I know being there for it caused a lot of trauma to a lot of people, I don’t want to increase that number just in the re-telling.

Anyway…

She gave me homework to do, but I’m suddenly drawing a blank as to what it is… needs! that’s it.  We had talked about my difficulty in asking for help because I don’t always know what I need when I reach out (ok, I rarely know what I need when I’m reaching out) so I just don’t do it.  She wants me to collage what it is that I need (or draw, or express in some way).  I tried to get out of it by saying I’m pretty sure it will turn dark.  She countered by telling me to make multiple pictures then, one that expresses my needs, and one that takes care of the darkness.  I’m still horribly unsure of where to even start with my needs, but I’m pretty sure I could cover a million pages in the darkness.  How do you even figure out what your needs are?  How do you represent that?  I honestly don’t know what I need beyond safety (physical and emotional).  That’s the only time I do know how to ask for help: when I desperately need physical safety and it’s about time to go to the hospital.  Outside of that, I don’t know what my needs are.  Support – What does that look like?  Peace – Can someone else even provide that?  What does a normal person need when they are in distress?  I grew up knowing only that my most basic need for safety was not met.  The people I turned to for safety either did not come through with it, or ended up leaving in the long run.  I don’t know what else to look for… This will be a really difficult assignment.

Sorry, I’m getting distracted, I’m waiting at a coffee shop for L to be done with her activity.  I love this place.  It’s chill and friendly and always has something fun on tv.  Tonight it’s Modern Family… I’ve never seen it before, but know the general premise.  It’s quite funny at times, so it has me looking up and losing my train of thought.

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