There'd been many sessions with Trudy over the 10 years I'd been working with her that focused on fears, real and imagined. We'd come together first in an attempt to help her son who'd struggled with early childhood trauma at the hands of his father. She carried the pain and the guilt of this trauma and worked tirelessly to provide the best help she could find for her son and skipped over the centrality of her own healing as part of how the family-as-a-whole could find peace and a measure of happiness.
She wanted to explore her irrational fear of the dark that arose whenever she slept alone in her lakeside cabin surrounded by family members' homes and the familiar land she'd visited all her life. The fearful imagery was of someone attacking her in her home and not feeling like she could protect herself from the invasion of her space. Nothing of this kind had ever happened there so this was entirely a production of her own psyche that seemed at first glance to be the residual trauma from when her children were abused and she was unaware until they were almost killed and the authorities took the chilren away and arrested the father. She was able to regain custody and raised the boys herself and tenaciously worked to instill in them a sense of independence and self sufficiency which succeeded in some ways but definitely not in others.
While this was the easy explanation it wasn't the truth as these fears predated her marriage. As we talked about the situation, she recounted a story she'd mentioned before about having possibly been molested by one of her relatives who was developmentally disabled in some way and he'd been known to seek out young children and undress them without any indication of molestation beyond undressing. Her story unfolded as before but the critical difference was the noting of how her mother had told her to not say anything of what had transpired to her father for fear that he would seek to harm the boy when apparently no real harm had been done. This collusion to keep a secret about abuse was important to explore and it had a resonance to the traumatic events that transpired to Trina and her children. I began to see the connection that may have formed wherein Trina rendered herself dumb as to what was happening in her own home and focused her attention away from what her husband was doing to the children and more about keeping the family stable with a regular income which was her father's role. She wouldn't allow herself to be aware as this was the bargain she made with her mother who sought to not say anything out of having to admit she had not been watching what the children were doing.
The connection carried a strong emotional charge and we both felt the weight of this moment and the physical experience of relief that arises when the unconscious becomes conscious. The whole arc of the therapy came clear in that moment and there was a palpable sense of resolution.
I got a note from Trina today that she'd spent 9 nights in the cabin after the session with no experience of panic or fear except for one night and she could take care of herself and go back to sleep.
This reminded me of my own resonance to secrets and lies of omission in my own childhood that shaped my relationship with my family. I lost my father to congestive heart failure when I was 3 but was not told what happened to him and helped to deal with my feelings of loss, anger and grief. I was alone in my pain as a child and my family was happy to continue the illusion of normalcy with occasional comments about what a great person he was. No mention of my mother's pain and sadness. It was as if she was seen at fault for his death by both his parents and hers. I was left very much alone with no opportunity to clarify what had really happened to him. I also was never made aware until after her death, that my mother had a child out of wedlock and gave her up for adoption 2 years before I was born
I recall the walk down a darkened road in California in my early 20s fearing that something unknown would strike out at me. The terror I felt remained as a palpable sensory experience for many years although there was no rational basis for that nameless dread. I always felt in touch with my fear of the unknown until working in group therapy training I learned to separate the facts from the feelings I was having in relation to the facts and this became a way to regulate my response to my thoughts and fantasies. I could explore what my feelings were as sensory and emotional arousal and then explore the thoughts that stimulated my responses. It became quite clear that I was conflating the two and using the physiological response to my thoughts as confirmatory evidence for their validity. This fundamental cognitive error was at the crux of my neurosis as it is for many who suffer from anxiety and the depression born of chronic anxiety.
Struggling to learn the truth and thereby quell my anxiety became a primary compensatory focus from an early age, this then encouraged me to use the quasi-linear problem solving model of connecting the dots. I wasn't capable of more complex analytical methods at that point. I feel I resonated with Trudy's experience more directly in terms of wanting to understand what was going on more completely as a way to help me regulate my agitated and regressed state.
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