I've been in counseling before, a couple of times.
I went to one at my undergraduate university every now and then, before my classes and outside activities and two part time jobs ate up my time. I scheduled it covertly, so not to arouse my parents' suspicion, scheduling so that I would still arrive at home at my usual time. I really did not want them to find out. Only Jeff, and by extension, his family, knew. He was the one who encouraged me to go, even when I really really really didn't want to, even though I knew it would help me.
It was the first step toward acknowledging how abusive my family situation was. And it gave me the spark to start thinking about moving out--and my counselor was supportive. I don't remember how many times I went to see her, but it was at least once after I got engaged and was disowned, after my father called me a radical liberal feminist because I wanted to walk down the aisle side by side with Jeff, instead of being given away.
After we moved to Chicago, I made an appointment with a counselor at a center--they had sliding scale since neither Jeff nor I had a steady job. She was nice. It was a week-by-week thing. After a couple of weeks, I really really didn't want to go back and relive the dark past all over again so I just said, "I'll let you know when I have time again."
I tried again last year--different counselor, same center. She was also very nice, but her questions sometimes made me doubt myself and my memory. It became more and more difficult for me to try to explain. How do you explain the subtle and pervasive details of psychological and emotional abuse?
It was compounded by the fact that I remember so little of my childhood. The memories are there--I just can't access them, unless they rise up on their own, or get triggered. After a while of trying, I told the counselor I was feeling better, and would like to stop counseling.
I was feeling better. So I thought. But my brain has a way of trying to make things seem less then they actually are--a learned behavior, I know--and in retrospect, I was still in emotional pain. I was still depressed. I had no energy, as you might have noticed about the dearth of blog posts during that time. That's when I found a psychiatrist and upped my Lexapro. It helped, but we both decided that I should get counseling to really beat back depression.
I searched casually for a counselor. Then my recent breakdown threw that into a more of a frenzied search. I needed help. I really needed help. But it was so hard to find someone who is available evening and/or weekends. Finally, this past week, one said she could see me on Saturday (yesterday.)
Friday was such good day. I don't know why this happened, but I felt...free from the bonds of depression. I had energy and motivation. I was can-do about things. I felt normal. That carried over into Saturday, though a bit weaker. I was only a little anxious, but not too bad.
I went in--and she put me at ease instantly. A good sign.
She had me out some questionnaires--as a snapshot of how I feel right now, and how I felt in the past two weeks. My anxiety registered low, my depression registered high (because of that breakdown, I think) and I had a tiny bit of dissociative positiveness. I appreciated her forthrightness and that she can explain things in an academic way. Since I like to know what it is I'm dealing with in myself, that was another good sign.
The disassociation kinda funny when you think about it. I never really disassociate from myself anymore, but I used to a lot as a kid during his rages. She says that most people from my situation have a bit higher disassociation, and that is normal considering abuse. That's how you survive. And it would explain, at least partially, why I don't remember much of my childhood. Which age-period do I remember the most memories? I said, When I started college. It's the easiest to recall those memories, when I was no longer homeschoooled. When I spent less time with my family and more with other people.
She asked--what are my goals with counseling?
My goals so far:
- To be less trigger-some. I really don't want it to affect work or my life as much. I've made some progress, but I need to make more.
- Try to resolve grief. I cry almost every single time I think about my siblings, the little ones. Grief is normal. Emotions are normal. But it would be nice to be able to move more towards acceptance.
As I shared my memories, she was very, incredibly, validating. When I talked about how my dad had gotten me a cell phone because then I could text when I got places, text when I was going somewhere, etc, she saw it for what it was. Controlling. Other people excuse it. But it fit into the larger picture.
When I talked about how, after I was disowned my mom tried to get me to "accept my faults" and to apologize to dad for whatever I did in order to keep the peace in the family, she saw it instantly: Codependency. Yes. My mom is very codependent.
When I talked about dad disowning me after I had moved out, after I got engaged, how he thought that me moving out was a sign I hated him, etc, she saw it. It was narcissism. Without someone else to control, without someone at home, my dad felt more empty inside. And of course that was my fault, so he was punishing me.
She wasn't surprised that I fear punishment. I fear messing up. That I need to be perfect. She understood that the weird little things can be triggering. Such as people talking at length and repeating themselves over and over in different ways--that's still triggering to me, but perfectly normal behavior otherwise.
She said that my behavior is similar to those coming out of cults. The unresolved grief since my siblings are still experiencing this, the depression, the triggers from coming out of a controlling environment, the fear of disappointment, the fear of punishment, a controlling figure, codependency...while my family is not a cult, the emotions are similar.
All of this validation was relieving. So very relieving. Validation about things that are hard to explain? Totally another plus. It helps me to trust that I'm not the crazy one. I think it will help me to trust her when we work together to integrate my narrative. AKA, piece together my past, so that I can move on.
I think this will work out.
Filed under: Abuse