Editor’s note: This is part 45 of Marie’s story.
First thing this morning, I went to the piano studio. Then, from the piano studio directly to Carl’s office. Before I left the house, I forgot to pack my “security” blanket in my bag, and I didn’t have time to stop by again en route to my session.
So, no blanket today, but it really wasn’t a big deal because I’m getting the sense that I’m through with using the blanket in therapy. I feel that I’ve moved beyond needing it.
At any rate, we had our usual greetings and discussion on how to spend our time together. I told him I would like to pick up where we left off almost three months ago with reading the letter I wrote to my dad. He thought that was an excellent idea.
Me: If you remember, the last part of the letter was the paragraph about trading my body as a way to feel “good enough” — and that is what kicked off several other tangents’ worth of therapeutic conversation.
Carl: Yes, I remember.
Me: I think starting out with that paragraph and going from there would be a good plan.
Carl: I agree! Would you like for me to read the letter or would you like to read it?
Me: I’ll read it…I’m feeling pretty solid about reading it. In fact, I think I want to hear my own voice reading it this time.
Carl: Excellent! Would you prefer that I follow along on my copy while you are reading aloud or that I just listen?
Me: I really don’t have a preference. You can do whatever works best for you.
Carl: Okay—I’ll follow along on my copy, then.
Me: “I was so desperate to feel connected and wanted by you that I went looking for that elsewhere. That didn’t come cheaply… I had to trade my body for it.
When I had legitimate complaints about the behavior of my teachers at school, you told me I had to handle it on my own. When the neighborhood boys were bullying me, punching me, knocking books out of my hands, you taught me how to fight. I know you were trying to teach me self-reliance. It did teach me that…and, it also taught me that I was on my own with no protection.
When I was 16, the school bully caught me in the basement and pinned me in a corner. He touched me all over and told me he was going to rape me. I fought back so hard — hit him so hard — that I broke his eardrum and he ran away.
I didn’t tell you about it because I thought you would blame me. I would have to admit that I often allowed the boys to kiss me and touch my breasts…I was that desperate for attention…so, I figured I deserved what the school bully did.
fyI saw you as a threat not as a protector.”
Carl: (Hand on heart) Ouch… you felt you were totally on your own — that you were not entitled to protection from your dad, from either parent. You were taught that you could not ask for help, that you had to handle everything by yourself.
Me: Yeah, that’s true. But, the good news is that I learned to fend for myself early on.
Carl: It also taught you to not ask for or accept help and support from other people.
Me: Yeah, you’re right…
“I learned that the best I could hope for was to be not too big of a burden on other people. I had no idea (still don’t) that people might desire to spend time with me.”
Carl: It is painful to me to hear that the best you could hope for was to be not too big of a burden on other people. I’ve heard you talk about that before. Do you still feel that way?
Me: Oh, yeah. Big time. I can’t imagine that people really want to hang out with me unless they are specifically getting something from doing so — like when I’m being a productive employee or a willing sexual partner. I have a couple of female friends that I think like hanging out with me, but I think the vast majority of people would avoid spending any more time than absolutely necessary in order to get what they need from me.
Carl: Ouch! That must be a painful way to live.
(I nodded my head in agreement.)
Me: “There were so many rules. I couldn’t keep them all straight. I tried to keep them all straight, but sometimes I forgot. I learned to watch your body language so I could know when you were checking up on me and when you were not paying attention. It let me know when I had to be careful and when I could relax a little bit.
When you walked in the door after work in the evening, I always had to take the temperature of the air to see if I was in trouble or not. It was easier to avoid you.
Do you know that I have spent the vast majority of my waking hours trying to ‘get it together’ well enough to win your approval? I have invested entire days and weeks to setting up charts and lists and metrics so I would know when I had it together ‘good enough’ to be a person of value and worth.
Guess what. I’m figuring out following those charts and checklists don’t do it.
I just thought of something very interesting. I never saw anyone else get spanked, whipped or hit except [my niece]. I thought I got all the violence because I was bad. [My sister] was good, mom and dad were good. Everyone else was good.
When I saw [my niece] get hit, I realized that she must be a bad person, too. I bonded with her over that. I remember thinking: Well, you’ll learn to follow the rules soon enough. You’ll learn that this is the way it is. I even spanked her a time or two because I thought it was what I was supposed to do.
But, I didn’t like it. It felt like I was soldier following orders that hurt my heart. Why so many secrets?
There was secrecy even around stuff that was not bad like me sleeping in the same bed as you sometimes. To me, it was innocent and normal, but you told me to keep it a secret. That gave me the message it wasn’t okay. It was easier for you to shame me into keeping secrets than it was for you to deal with being held accountable for your behavior by other adults. It was easier for you to allow your children to carry that weight.”
(That was the end of the letter. We sat quietly for a few moments in recognition of reaching that milestone.)
Carl: So, what’s happening inside of you, now?
Me: You know… I actually feel rather detached from it — from what happened back then. I know it happened and I know it was a terrible experience for me and I know what my parents did was very wrong. But, I feel that it is history and I’m ready to let it be in the past.
To be continued…
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