(I then found myself wanting to talk about my history of promiscuity, but I didn’t know how to smoothly transition into that topic. Again, the pain from remembering those moments felt too overwhelming to be put into words…I didn’t know where to start. Finally, I pulled together a couple of sentences…)
Me: But, then there was the sex. I was always good at the sex.
Carl: Tell me more about that…in what ways were you good at the sex?
Me: Well, I was wild; I’d do anything—no boundaries.
Carl: That made you good at sex?
Me: It’s what the men wanted. If I did that, I got their undivided attention for a time, and their approval…until it wasn’t enough and they’d walk away.
Carl: So, you gave everything you had to them and still it wasn’t enough.
Me: Nope, it was never enough. That’s why I enjoy the company of animals so much…I’m always enough for them.
Carl: It is very understandable that you would turn to the unconditional love of animals for solace.
Me: I wasn’t enough for my husband, either…I gained five pounds in the time I knew him—and that is when I was 60 pound lighter than I am now, so I was relatively skinny then—and he got very upset with that because he didn’t want a fat wife. He wanted a tall, leggy blond with small boobs who could run marathons and hike and ski and keep up with him—he was tall and skinny and ran marathons. What am I supposed to do with that?
Carl: Sounds like he was a real jerk!
Me: Well, I knew that is what he wanted when we got married and I married him anyway. So, it was partly my fault, too. I thought he would get over it, in time.
Carl: But he should have been more sensitive about the impact his fantasies would have on you!
(I sat silently for a few more minutes, allowing yet another wave of grief and tears to roll over me. Then came a sense of emotional release and of relief…not much relief, but some…more than I had before. I sat up a bit—partly to give my aching back a break, but also to make eye contact with Carl around the corner of the end table.)
Carl: I can see you now that you have moved. Would you prefer that I look at you while we talk or look away?
Me: I would prefer that you look at me. I like the connection.
Carl: Okay. I like the connection, as well.
Can you tell me what is happening with you now?
Me: I keep feeling a strong sense of…well…a strong sense of shame—like (dramatically putting my hands over my face) shame, shame, shame—shame on you!
Carl: Shame for what?
Me: Shame for needing the attention of men so much that I would give away my body for it. I shouldn’t have needed the attention that much. I should have been able to resist. I feel shame for being so weak as to need attention and approval!
Carl: You aren’t supposed to have needs?
Me: I was taught that I’m not supposed to have needs—that I’m supposed to take care of my needs myself and never look to someone else to meet them. I was taught I’m supposed to be totally self-sufficient and self-contained. If I had a need I couldn’t take care of myself, I was supposed to forget it and get over it—just tough it out.
Carl: You are human, Marie, you have needs.
Me: I just feel so ashamed for having needs. I shouldn’t have been controlled by them. There was so much sex, so many sexual encounters I didn’t really want.
Carl: How did it make you feel when you engaged in sexual encounters you never wanted?
Me: I felt like a toilet…just a place where men take care of their physical needs and then walk away. And, when the consequences of my behavior came around, I knew I deserved it. I mean, if I behave that way, then I deserve what I get.
Carl: What kind of consequences? Like STDs?
Me: Well, I did have an STD once, but fortunately it was treatable. Then, there was the abortion, and the pap smears that came back ugly.
(More tears and overwhelming emotions)
Me: So, I try as hard as I can to be everything people want me to be, but it is not enough. It will never be enough. Every time I am going to be around people, I have to go through the checklist of everything I’m supposed to have done, and what I’m supposed to be, to see if I’ve done enough—to see if I’m ready. That way, I’ll have time to create a reason or an excuse if I fall short somewhere.
Even in here, in the one place I feel the safest, I do the same thing. When I come in here, I think about the consequences of me taking off my shoes, if it is okay to move the pillows, if I appear organized enough…because, if I’m not all I’m supposed to be, you won’t want to have me as a client. I can’t shut off this way of being—I don’t know how.
Carl: You are right; it is not something you can shut off like it has a switch. It is a way of being that you have to shift over time.
I can imagine you are exhausted—trying your best to survive in relationships where the best you can hope for is to not get hit and to not be abandoned.
Me: I don’t know how I will ever be able to be in relationships if I can’t be good enough.
Carl: It’s because you can’t earn your way to worthiness…your worthiness is something you simply have without earning it.
Me: But if I believe I’m permanently broken, how can I ever believe I am worthy?
Carl: It takes time. And, you do it exactly like you are doing it.
(Of course, there was another wave of tears and the release of more emotion…I looked up at the clock sitting on the end table and saw we had about five minutes left in the session.)
Me: Are we done now?
Carl: Do you want to be done?
Carl: Do you want to come out of the corner?
Me: Yeah. (I started working my way out of the corner) It feels strange to climb out of the corner…to have been in the corner in the first place…(Small laugh)
(Carl waited patiently as I took a minute to regroup on the couch.)
Carl: How are you feeling? What do you need from me—I see we still have a few minutes—to help you feel prepared to go back out into the world again?
Me: Actually, nothing. I’m actually feeling good right now. I’m just amazed that did it—I climbed in the corner and put a blanket over my head and got in touch with my emotions…with another person in the room. And, I didn’t die and I didn’t break into a million pieces and you didn’t criticize or belittle me. I survived it. I feel really good right now! (Small laugh)
Carl: Well, good work! You are welcome to be in the corner anytime!
Me: Thank you for your part in this…I hope you know I think you are a really cool therapist…our work together is amazing to me.
Carl: I do know because you were kind enough to tell me before. But, it is good to hear it again.
And, with that, I started packing up my stuff and preparing to face reality again.