I gathered up every ounce of courage I had and stood up. I took a cursory tour of the corner nearer the door (the corner with the plant) and quickly decided on the other corner.
I moved into that corner and, while still standing, wrapped the blanket around me, leaving a section of the blanket loose for my head.
I took a deep breath and sat down, facing outward into the room, feet flat on the floor with my legs slightly bent. Then, I pulled the blanket forward over my head.
I immediately was overcome with a sense of dire panic… the kind of panic one feels in the half-second after stepping off of the high dive at the local swimming pool for the very first time… during which one becomes convinced one has just taken a most regrettable and unredeemable course of action.
This act—the act of climbing into a corner and hiding—is the most possible-ridicule-producing thing I’ve ever done in therapy… maybe in my life.
This is everything my dad warned me to not be—a sniffling weakling, hiding under a blanket, too scared to deal with life.
What in the world was I thinking? Why did I think this would make me feel safer than sitting on the couch?
That’s when I realized this was not about feeling safe. This was about giving language to my body—giving the part of me that has been frozen for decades a chance to be expressive.
So, I talked myself through the panic and convinced myself to stay in the corner, under the blanket.
A minute or so later, I heard Carl opening the outer door of his office.
He has two rooms in his office—the outer room is of a utilitarian purpose. It is filled with shelves and shelves of books and reference material and with multiple filing cabinets. We have to walk through the outer room to access the inner room… and the inner room is far more aesthetic with minimal furniture and with a comforting, soothing décor.
All of the therapy occurs in this inner room, of course.
Anyway, when I heard him open the outer door, I experienced an acute and overwhelming triggering. My physically vulnerable position brought a powerful remembering of all the times I’ve withdrawn, sitting all alone, waiting for some all-powerful male to assault my personal space.
I was overwhelmed by multiple, simultaneous flashbacks of dreaded violence… specifically reliving the moments before each act of violence began—the moments in which I sat paralyzed, mute and powerless, waiting for the heavy footsteps to move closer and closer—waiting for his face to come into view, wondering how bad it was going to be this time.
As Carl’s footsteps moved closer and closer, my brain reconstructed the memory of towering silhouettes… silhouettes of my dad… of my husband… of boorish sexual partners… of “X”…
I felt the reality of “me” start folding up into itself, starting with my feet—my feet folded upward into my gut and my gut folded upward into my head.
I felt my body become silent and frozen. I felt “me” start moving out the backside of my head, through the base of my skull. I felt the cold color of steel slide into my eye sockets and into my eardrums. I heard myself praying to disappear, to become nothing, to become absent and invisible before he got to me.
Then, I heard Carl’s gentle voice…
Carl: I’m glad to see you have found a spot in the corner (He was still standing in the doorway between the outer room and the inner room). Is it okay for me to come into the room?
(I knew he couldn’t see me because I was hidden behind the end table. I knew I had to vocalize an answer. So, in between sobs and hyperventilated breaths, I managed to utter an affirmative response.)
Carl: Would you like for me to stay in the other room for a while?
Me: (More sobs… ) No… you (sob) can come in here.
Carl: Okay. Where would you like me to sit?
Me: In your chair… that would be okay.
(My eyes were still tightly screwed shut, but I was holding onto his voice and working my way back into the room and back into the present. I kept reminding myself of my present location, and I kept reminding myself there is no reason for me to fear Carl. I kept reminding myself that he is, in fact, a source of protection.)
Carl: Would you like something else around you for extra security such as furniture or pillows?
Carl: Do you need some tissues?
Me: No, I have the box of Kleenex with me.
Carl: Ah, I thought the box had disappeared off the end table! I’m sitting in my chair right now. If, for some reason, I were to move out of my chair, I’d tell you before I move.
It was rather warm in the room (we are still experiencing summer temperatures), so I had to almost immediately pull my head out from under the blanket in order to get cooler air on my face. (I tend to overheat easily.) I still felt like I needed to “hide,” so I pulled the blanket up around my chin and buried my face into the blanket.
I wanted to talk—to tell Carl what was happening—but the rush of memories and emotions was too intense.
I was struggling to just catch my breath. The thought of putting those images and emotions and bodily sensations into words felt very dangerous to me. I couldn’t imagine how I could ever speak about them to Carl.
Sometime during those first few minutes after Carl returned to the room, he asked me if I wanted him to talk to me as I was sitting in the corner—to say soothing and encouraging words to me—or if I wanted him to be quiet.
I told him I would like for him to talk—I told him I liked hearing the sound of his voice because it made me feel connected and safe.
For the next six or eight minutes, as I sat without talking, he kept up a dialogue of gentle words: I’m here for you, you are safe, you are under my protection, you can take as much time as you need, I’ll be here for you when you are ready to talk, there is no hurry…
Finally, I was able to put words to some of the memories…
Me: When I was a kid, I would be in my bedroom or in the playroom and I would hear my dad come home.
I would stay in the room for as long as I could. I would listen carefully to the pitch and the lilt of his voice to determine if he was in good spirits or if he was angry. If he was angry, I knew my chances of making it through the evening unscathed were not that good.
While I was waiting to be summoned into the common area of the house—usually for supper, or maybe to pull my dad’s boots off his feet—I would go over the checklist of all the things I could get into trouble for to see if I could think of anything I had done wrong… any rules I had broken… to determine if I was going to get into trouble.
But, there were always new rules or rules I had forgotten about. I never could keep them all straight and I knew the chances of getting into trouble were pretty good on any given day.
I don’t ever remember a time when I knew I was “good enough” for my dad, not even when I was really little. I have only known falling short of his expectations. The best I could do was to not get hit.
Carl: How painful to believe the best you could hope for was to not get hit. But, that is what happens when a six-month-old baby gets hit for being naturally expressive. Can you tell me more about what it was like to never feel good enough for your dad’s approval?
Me: There really isn’t much more to say… that’s pretty much the entire story.
Carl: I think that is a good summary of the story, but I think there are many more emotions and stories to be told.
(I nodded my head. For a few more minutes, I sat quietly—submitting to the suffocating weight of the emotions and memories.)
[Continued in the next post… ]