Beginning Trauma-Informed Therapy

A couple weeks ago I started trauma informed therapy. I have had talk therapy in the past, but I had come to a point where I realized I was suffering from PTSD and I was exhibiting a lot of trauma responses. I didn't realize some of my behaviour such as ruminating, obsessive thinking, experiencing cognitive dissonance were all completely normal reactions to trauma. I can remember thinking I was completely crazy, I would ask friends over and over again about different interpretations of events because I could not trust my own instincts. Did I really see that? Am I imagining this? Maybe I am overreacting. It it my fault? These were thoughts that never stopped it was torture. Ruminating and obsessive thinking are ways the brain will deal with trauma. Its very similar to using alcohol or drugs to numb pain. Over-thinking and analyzing also will numb pain, it has been my go to method since childhood.

Once I realized these were trauma responses, and that in fact, I was not crazy. I started to look for ways of resolving this never ending cycle of anxiety. It took me a while to find a trauma informed therapist who could take me on, and fortunately I have a good benefit package which makes it possible for me to get treatment. I thought I would share some of the insights that arise from my sessions. Maybe someone out there my benefit from my experience. One of the emotions I have been dealing with over the past couple years has been anger. During my marriage this was something I was never able to express. While at the time I thought I was holding my own, really I was worn down and defeated. I never could win, arguments got turned back on me. I would find myself completely unable to express or defend myself. He would hurl accusations and insults with such velocity that I didn't know what happened. I couldn't comprehend why I had these feelings, I frequently ended up in a melted puddle of frustration, confused and anguished. Each interaction would erode my spirit just that little bit more less resilent to the next attack. The problem for me is, even though I am divorced, I can still hear his voice booming in my ears. A divorce decree doesn't stop the force of his words hitting me like fists. His face leering inches from mine, his mouth twisted into a snarled growl. Even now, I can feel the energy of him coiled and ready to strike, sitting here with that memory tears start to flow. It feels like it just happened. Your body still feels the threat. You cannot just forget it, or just get over it. Yes, it's in the past, but until you truly deal with what has happened and work through the trauma it will continue to haunt you. This is an injury that time alone will not heal. By the time we finally divorced I was left with years of pent up frustration and anger. Initially, I was numb. I wasn't sure anything had happened. Everything had been normal, that wasn't a big deal. It was just me being over-sensitive and over-reacting. I didn't feel anything. It took quite a while, but over time that numbness began to thaw as I slowly began to realize what had happened to me. I started to sense the magnitude, and just how not normal the situation had become. The realization that not only was it abuse, it was an extreme form of psychological and emotional abuse. When reading about verbal abuse, it was the most violent and vicious examples that I recognized. It was like they had been in our home transcribing his tirades. I was experiencing delayed realization. While your in it, its just normal. I remember him telling me all families where that way, that this type of thing went on in every house on the street. It was me that was the problem, not his behavior towards me. Once he was out of my life and the fog lifted, I could see clearly what had happened and the anger starts to bubble up. I became aware of the reality of the situation, the tactics that were used to control you. I became aware of how I had been manipulated. You start to see behind the façade. The more time goes on, the more outraged you become. The reality just keeps hitting harder. It becomes rage that has no outlet, he is gone but the damage he caused is still there. I was still feeling it, and dealing with it. It was still part of my present. My outlet was to send angry emails. I was seeking some kind recognition for what he had subjected me to all those years. I wanted him to know what he put me through. This was one of the reasons I started therapy, to deal with this anger that just wouldn't dissipate. Right now even thinking about it, I can feel the my teeth aching from the tension in my jaw, the memory creates an almost instant reaction. When I told the therapist about these rage filled emails she asked me "What were you hoping to get from sending these emails?" I already knew these emails were never going to get me any satisfaction, he will never acknowledge what he has done. But I would still send them, getting momentary relief when I hit the send button. It was my version of a punch. The truth is though, he does know exactly what he is done. He was fully aware of what he was doing. No apology will ever come, no remorse, and no guilt. I will never get validation or recognition of the damage from him. Somehow this question almost instantly cured me of the urge to send my vitriol his way. I still need to come to terms with the anger though. I won't lie about the violent thoughts that pass through my mind at times. How can it be that it feels like your teeth are banging against each other? That anger has such reverberations. Later that week after my appointment, the thoughts stirred in my mind of an event where he had screamed at me because I said we didn't have Bell Fibe in our neighborhood yet. He was walking by as I spoke and immediately pounced, lunging toward me hissing "REALLY? it's right at the end of the driveway". Then he stood there glaring threateningly at me. I have no idea why a discussion of local internet provider options would generate such a response, but there it was towering over me like I had just killed his first born. The memory causes a familiar feeling I can feel myself retreating into my being, pulling all parts of myself as tight as possible to become a smaller, hopingly invisible target. I will let the verbal blows glance off my hardened shell. Just put keep your head down, it will be over soon. His voice echoing in my ears. (oh, do I ever hate the sound of his voice) My body instinctively prepares for the assault. The fact is, while yes they have installed a Fiber Optic cable along the road, it carries the signal elsewhere, right now there is no service in my community. He is well aware of this, but it was just an opportunity to attack, a chance for him to demonstrate his superiority, and another opportunity to destabilize me. You never knew what would trigger him. One moment everything was fine, your sitting chatting with your son about the internet, then suddenly you are under assault. You always had to be ready to protect yourself, and you never really could. Nothing you could say would mitigate or prevent the attack. It made it hard to relax in your home. At the thought of this memory, I feel the familiar sense of injustice and rage building inside. On reflex I reach for my phone and begin furiously typing out my anger. Then I stop and I remember what the therapist had said "What do you hope to get from sending that message" Hmmmm, what do I hope to get? I think, it was a release. I didn't have a voice while we were married. I have one now. I was saying I wished I could have said to defend myself during our marriage. I never expected an answer, I know him well, he never will answer. For him that's his last form of control. It's his last mechanism to let me to know my place, its the only way he can feel power. He has to do it that way, because truly he is weak, so his power comes from dismissing others. The silent treatment is a power game to these weak pathetic men. When it comes down to it, I actually didn't even want an answer. I just wanted to express myself. But I realized, I have said it all, he knows how I feel. While he will never admit it, he knows what he did. I thought again, what she said "what do you hope to get?" and I realized, the answer was nothing. Even though this anger is pounding at my rib cage looking for the way to get out, sending it his way will do nothing. I know this. At this point I deleted the message, and breathed out a sigh. I don't need that anymore. Resolving these angry feelings is not going to come from him. The next thing that happened during that session was the discussion of some of the ways he would psychologically abuse me during our marriage. At this point she asked me "Do you remember how it felt when he was living in the house? Well, it felt constrained, pent up frustration. He was often very irritable and we walked on eggshells. Outside the home he was friendly and cordial. He bragged about me to friends. But at home, entirely different. I was useless, a bitch. You could feel the contempt just hanging in the air. There always was an awareness that he could explode at anytime. When he spoke to me, even if it was casually, the edge of contempt was always present. He is mouth frequently in a sneer. We sat for a moment and I reflected on this. I felt the feeling again. Then she asked me "What do you feel when you think of it?" I felt tense. "Where do you feel it?" she asked. The answer was in my jaw. Whenever I remember my jaw clenches and the muscles hurt, its very painful. What is strange is, I have never noticed this before. My jaw was in pain, but I didn't notice, I was so focused on the thought. Through the week following the session, I began to notice when my jaw would clench. Once I became aware I noticed it happened often. I remember all the places I felt tense and on edge when he was around. The grocery store for example. He used to tell me that I was rude to cashiers, he would criticize my interactions with them, I was too abrupt or whatever. I remember looking at some clothes at a store when retail clerk came over and asked if I needed help. I think Ted and I were in the middle of an argument at the time. I replied without looking up "no thanks" I remember Ted, staring me aghast and he said with a tone of condemnation "she thought you were racist!!!!" I never even saw the woman, I have no idea what colour she was, but Ted turned my "no" into an accusation of racism. This type of thing made me very nervous in stores. He would pounce on me for any perceived infraction. I was constantly on edge. Always making extra effort to be polite and accommodating. I have noticed that now, when I go to the store, I don't feel that anymore. Instead it is replaced by a light carefree feeling. Instead, its easy conversations with the people around. I can talk to strangers, I was never able to do that before. Now, I am starting to understand why, it wasn't because I was a horrible odious human being. It was because I was living in a horrible odious situation that caused me to be uneasy around people. I have begun to notice now how different things feel today. Its interesting that every time I walk by the check out in the grocery story, I think about these events. I wonder, will there ever come a time when this stops? Will I ever just walk out thinking about what's for dinner instead of remember how he used to criticize me for asking about the price of apples? At this point of our session, she shifted the questioning "What is it like at home now that he is not here?" This is a pretty key question I think. The answer is, calm, easy going, we laugh more, everyone is happier. The tension is gone. We are able to get things done. We fix things that are broken, we call a plumber instead of living with no water in the kitchen for the month of January because the pipes froze. We have fun. We help each other out and we talk to each other in calm voices. You can tell we love each other. It remarkable to me to realize, this is the way most people live. This is why people can focus, and just laugh easily. They are just in a calm environment where they can just enjoy life. According to my friends, my whole demeanor has changed. I feel more open, and I have found its easy for me to talk to everyone these days. I can handle conflict now. That wasn't true in the past. So this is what I have begun to do, when the old feelings of tension arise, I acknowledge it, feel it, and then I compare it to today and step back into the present. There is that reminder, that is not my life anymore. Seems to be working in the short term, and honestly I will take any relief I can get. I am sure there will be a lot more work to be done. I have been told trauma recover is a long game. But at least I have some tools, when I feel the memories coming on I ask those questions,

  • What do I hope to get from this action?

  • What did it feel like then?

  • How is it different now?

Your story won't be exactly the same as mine, but perhaps this might help you on your journey. As my sessions continue I will continue to share the moments that impact me. If you find this useful I would appreciate if let me know. And I hope everyone out there knows that it will get better. It really does get better. It may be slow, its definitely painful, but it is worth it.

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