This is a small painting I made for my therapist, S. I presented it to him to commemorate the start of my work with him in 2012. Yes, “him”. Some of you may be surprised to hear that my therapist is a man. It was a big deal for me and a conscious decision on my part. I chose a male therapist because I thought that if I could trust a man to guide me that it would help heal some of my male distrust. I thought it might be hard, but figured I was going to go all out in this counseling effort. You see, I have a long history of psychiatric interventions, case management and therapy. And I had not ever been totally transparent. For many reasons; mainly I did not know how, or I could not bear the vulnerability, or in some cases it was simple distrust. All my life I had gotten a variety of diagnosis’. I was not intentionally trying to be a chameleon but just kept getting differing views as to what was wrong with me and the best way to help me.
My first remembered experience of seeing a ‘professional’ about how I was feeling was as a preadolescent. I was struggling with overwhelming night fear and fugues; it worried my parents a great deal. I had slept walked away from home as a child before but it really kicked in after a violent racist home invasion and attack in the 1970’s. I was never the same. More on that later. But after that I did not get any kind of mental health intervention until at 16, I ran away from home for a spell. My school priest and counselor talked with my parents and me at that time. Years later, I began counseling in college for anxiety and ‘just not feeling right’. A hospitalization for suicideality and memory losses at 22. And that is where the big diagnosis’ came (1985). More on that later as well. Then off and on years of therapy: year and half with one astute psychiatrist and 11 years with an MFCC in my late 20’s – late 30’s. And after a relocation across the country (my second), various mental health agency assignations with medication management for a variety of diagnosis’. But no therapy for over a decade.
But this time, 2 years ago, was different. I was coming out of grueling physical and emotional traumas (my near death experience and illness for a year and living with my mother as she died from lung cancer). Not only was I in dire need of support; but I had now reached a milestone that I had envisioned for myself. I had always told myself that I would deal with my tough issues when both my parents had passed away. And now my last remaining parent had died. I had convinced myself I would feel free to speak of my abuse issues when they were not alive. Somehow I felt too conflicted to do it when they were alive. I told myself I was going to come clean, finally.
‘Come clean?’ you ask. Yeah. Because for all the counseling I had done in my life and all the psychiatrists I had seen in my life, I had never allowed any of them to really know what was up with me. The closest I came was with the psychiatrist that first diagnosed my dissociative disorder (but it was called something else back then) back in 1985. In my defense, I simply was not aware of all the facts at the time. I just knew some very wacky and mysterious things were always going on and I didn’t know how I could explain them to anyone when I did not know what was happening. Also, I was so consumed with shame that I could not even discuss the abuse that i was conscious of at that time (I had/have amnestic blocks). In my past therapy efforts, I either did not fully disclose and just focussed on more pressing life management issues or I only skimmed the incest and sexual abuses, never tolerating any detailed examination of my family life and sexual experiences. I am so grateful to the gentle, patient therapist I had in San Francisco (J). Despite all my self censoring, I got so much out of my work with her. She helped me keep it together in the very difficult and wildly self destructive period of my late 20’s – 30’s. She was instrumental to helping me address my substance abuse, general dysfunction issues and taught me self care skills. Sounds basic but it was life changing. So she was just what I needed at that time.
So THIS time, at close to 50, I decided I wanted to be real, speak my truth. It was finally my time. I did not have to censor myself anymore. But the thing is, I still felt censored. I still feel censored! I started with the best of intentions, but breaking familial secrets and my secrets were harder than I thought. Thank God S is patient and tolerant. Over time, after a couple months of staying in the closet with my dissociating, I let him in on what some doctors had diagnosed me with. I said it mockingly, like “can you believe it?!”. And then I denied it and said it was just an example of how many different people had gotten things wrong. Needless to say, he returned to that comment and explored it with me and I opened up more and more. To make a long story short (for it will be covered in other posts no doubt), I finally started opening up about my life, past and present . I go very slow in some areas, quicker in others. And I finally, with S, and the additional support of two stints in an intensive outpatient program that specializes in trauma and dissociating, accept my diagnosis!! Ta da! It took 28 years from my initial diagnosis of my dissociative disorder to accept it. What can I say, I am stubborn.
When I saw that I was indeed going to trust S and really open up to him, I created this painting for him. I saw it as a token of my commitment to do the work. Who that mermaid is and what I learned later about the representation is an interesting story – that too will come later. So, stay tuned, and I hope you glean insight form my journey in these virtual pages. Welcome to my world.
Categories: CPTSD & Dissociation