Tag Archive | couples counseling

Face it to fix it

Do your demons live in your peripheral vision, off to the side, just out of sight like mine do? I know they are there, I readily admit it, but struggle to face them and really give a good look.

Avoidance has been the biggest symptom of my ptsd for years. Avoid the triggers. Avoid the feelings. Avoid the pain.

New counselors are coaxing me out of hiding, teaching me to stop avoiding. Like holding out bacon to a scared lonely puppy. I come out for a moment to inspect the bacon then retreat back into hiding safely again, not sure I want it, not sure I trust them, not sure it is worth the risk.

My assignment for couples counseling has seemed impossible this week. I don’t know why I agreed to do it, other than I always agree to try. He asked me to write a list of all of my touch-related triggers so we can work on creating safety at home.

This is my fault…I opened my big mouth and complained that hubby often seems to forget about my specific triggers, and sets me into flashbacks or panic, and I am always reminding him don’t do it like that. And then I have to go somewhere horrible, recover, and forgive him. Repeat nearly daily. It never gets better no matter how much I remind him.

And so I have been asked to put it in writing. All of the things that terrify me. The things I don’t want to happen to me, so I won’t be triggered and reminded of AF or my brother abusing me. I am supposed to round them up, list them out, and share in counseling with two men? Yes one is hubby…but sometimes he is just a scary man when I am frightened.

I do NOT want to do this.

My inner lost puppy is whimpering and hiding under the bed and does not want bacon.

I put it off all week. I have to leave for my session soon. I decided to post it here, because my friends are here, and I feel braver here, and because knowing it may help someone else gives me strength.

So here it is. I may be vague on some of these, writing just enough to know I looked quickly. Some of these are quick startles. Some of these are context specific, like time of day, room, position, preceding events and mood. Some are mild while others are instant and extreme. Some cause me to get upset, some I try to hit the ‘attacker’, some I freeze up and can’t move or speak for some time. Some make me feel used and owned, like my body does not belong to me. Some make me feel luke I am a bad person, a whore even.

* Unexpected touches of any kind
* Grabbing or hugging me from behind me, reaching around me
* Swatting, grabbing my butt
* Hovering or leaning over me while I am lower than you
* Waking me up with touch and no sound
* Me sitting on someones lap
* Me laying on top of someone, facing up
* Someone sitting next to me grabbing my knee or leg
* Thumb in my hand without noticing
* Slow motion touches
* Massage that turns into touches
* Asking me if I like being touched
* Watching me change my clothes
* Touching or kissing me or leaning over me while i am sleeping
* Opening my bedroom door at night

Advertisements

Stop it, I’m not attacking or controlling you, just talk to me

 

 

Yesterday started and ended ok. I told hubby I was thinking about getting our backyard picnic shelter cleaned up and work on my agoraphobia by starting to feel safe in my own yard. I said I’d like to work on this as my project this summer, something to do while I’m outside to keep myself busy and reduce my fear.

We were just about to head outside together to assess the shelter together when a text from my oldest brother came. (Cue Dun-dun-dun)

My brother for unknown reasons asked if I had received my $10 inheritance check from AF’s Will yet, informed me that my middle brother with schizophrenia had moved in with my youngest brother (instead of living alone now that mom passed), and reminded me that he wanted me to come to a family picnic soon.

I could hardly breathe. That was a lot in one little text. I handed my phone to Hubby so he could read it and I headed upstairs for a moment, because, well, I had to run away from that phone so I could breathe. With some distance I did some rescue breathing, in through my nose for 4, out through my mouth like I am blowing out candles. Then I did some grounding, pushing my feet into the floor, my hands into the wall, feeling the pressure and texture, using mindfulness. I ran cool water on my wrists.

I came back down in a few minutes and Hubby was standing by the back door, asking if I was ready to go out now. I looked for my phone, he had set it down on the table. I said something like, I don’t think I can go, and felt so sad and misunderstood as I sat at the table. He sighed loudly, showing his impatience and frustration and he says, “I thought we were going out to work on the shelter?”

“Didn’t you read that text?”

“Yeah…but I thought we were going to go outside.” He comes in finally and sits at the other side of the table from me.

“But I’m going to have to respond, and this has already affected me, so maybe if I do that now it might be better. Don’t you think? Don’t you have any opinions about what he texted?”

He actually got up then to check the mail and called from the other room, “There’s no check here”

My jaw dropped. As if that was the important part of this. Couldn’t he see I was shaking and scared earlier? That I had been triggered, forced to think of AF’s horrible will, my being unlovable and only worth $10. That I was worried about My brother’s kids now …those kids need stability…but it looks like that will never happen and since that brother won’t speak to me, I don’t even get to express my opinions. And the picnic? Yes it was nice to be asked…but oh man the anxiety that produced to think of such an event. I’m not ready for that. My head was spinning. How do I let my brother know I am open to him but he needs to back off a little? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and hurt our delicate relationship.

Hubby sat back down impatiently, still saying nothing while I stared at the text. He keeps tapping his feet and making huffy sighing noises.

“Don’t you have any thoughts or opinions about this? Any reaction at all? Any guidance on how to respond, or am I just bothering you?” I’m getting annoyed that I have to keep asking for a reaction.

“What??? Of course I have thoughts, I didn’t know you wanted them right now, I thought we were going outside, so I’m just waiting. I didn’t know you wanted to respond right away or that you wanted help with it. I don’t think your brother living there will be good for those kids or for him. I don’t know what else you want”

Now I sigh. I’m so sick of him acting confused all of the time. Nothing was confusing here. Why do I have to beg him to talk to me and see I’m upset? Why can’t he see that this would be an upsetting text for anyone, not just for me? I would have accepted nearly ANY form of comfort, support or connection. ANY reaction. What I’m having trouble accepting, again and again, is his confusion, frustration, and impatience. I really just needed a friend. I had managed the trigger and anxiety myself.

I responded to my brother, explaining I had not received a stupid check, that I thought my brothers living together was a bad idea for all concerned but I hoped it works out, and that with my back pain and extreme anxiety I was not yet ready for a picnic, and that I was back in counseling 2 days a week though. That’s when my brother responded with the lovely and amazing “take time to heal”. His response came much later and made me all warm and fuzzy, erasing some of the hurt dealt by hubby.

I attempted to explain to Hubby why this was a high distress moment. I reminded him about what I was working on in counseling, my distress list, and I said he never asked to read it….

That caused him to blow up before I could finish my sentence. I was going to say..so he doesn’t know that texts from my brother are very high on the list because they instantly trigger me, sending me back to a childhood world of memories and chaos (which I’m thinking ‘duh’ shouldn’t that be obvious). Instead he started ranting how was he supposed to know I wanted him to read the list, it’s just one more thing he screwed up this week…that was not what I was saying at all and I’m getting angry that he is making this about him. Then he said, “show me your list now then, we are already here talking, I can read it now since we are apparently not going outside” He didn’t say the word stupid, but it felt like he said show  me your stupid list and let’s get this over with….

What?? I’m thinking, are you serious hubby? You want me to share something that intimate with you while you are barking at me? But fear creeps in, I’m starting to feel unsafe with him now. Not in a dangerous way, but emotionally unsafe, too vulnerable, he is being too harsh and hurtful I can’t possibly open myself up to him. His hand is out to me as he demands I give him the list. I’m angry too, but I can’t be. I’m in personal conflict, a bit like a short circuit, and I need to get away. I can’t show him my anger. My stuck points say I’m not allowed to be angry and the fear grows. The voice in my head says I’m now unlovable and bothering him. I’m unimportant and a silly girl. I need to get away.

I refuse and mumble something about it not being a good time for it, let’s do it later. He looks visibly relieved. I get up and head to the kitchen. He asks if I’m coming outside. I say no, I’m going to wash the dishes. He goes outside by himself. I feel very, very sad and alone – again, but also relieved that he goes outside and this conflict is over and I’m alone and safe now. Alone is both good and bad.

Hubby cleans out the shelter by himself. OH! He did a nice job, but he clearly missed the point that I wanted a project to do myself. He was so proud to do it for me so I had a place to sit, I just smiled and said it looked great. What he did in two hours likely would have taken me most of the week, but I would have accomplished it myself, been outside the entire time, and it would have made me stronger. I guess I’ll have to think of something else to work on.

Later that afternoon in couples counseling, He said he felt controlled by me earlier, that he was only cleaning the shelter because I asked him to, and then all of a sudden I changed the plan and wanted to talk instead and he never knows what I want and it can change in an instant.

What?? I was internally fuming. Is that really how he saw it? I didn’t even want him to clean it, I wanted to do it myself. And I didn’t change the plan, I didn’t ask my brother to text, that just happened. Sometimes life happens and we need to react. Does he blame me for this?

The counselor had his own agenda for us and would not let us go into this topic, so my anger was building for him too. I felt like my time was being wasted. We spent an hour on a topic we didn’t need instead of this issue we obviously needed help with. I started to lose it by the end of the session, unable to hold it in any longer. I asked the counselor what is reasonable to expect of Hubby in any given moment, because we seem to have very different ideas. He said we could explore that next week.

In the hall after the session, Hubby asked if I was ok and put his arm around me. I pushed it off, and said “no…are you kidding me? now you ask me? No I’m not ok. And now you can’t comfort me, not when you are the one I’m mad at. I needed that from you earlier, not now. Why don’t you know these things? Anyone would know that.”

I snarled then. Something in me let go. I was no longer afraid to be angry there outside the counselor’s room. I told him “I am afraid my expectations are too high for you and that you seem incapable of changing, that you have no empathy or emotional intelligence whatsoever, that you can’t respond with a basic human connection and emotion in real time, that I tell you day after day and you still don’t understand, and that I’m tired of being so endlessly gentle and understanding with you, tired of coaching you on what to say and do, how to react or respond, tired of waiting and hoping that one day you will be there for me when I never get any response at all and I’m tired of feeling invisible or like I don’t matter, or I’m a bother to deal with.”

Ouch – I know. But I was really feeling that way. All of these lessons and counseling and I can go to him and something like this text can happen right in front of him or I say my anxiety is at an 8, and he simply walks away from me, not a word, no reaction, leaves me alone to deal with it myself. He does not check on me or support me in any way. And it isn’t that he doesn’t know how. He really should have a clue by now. We have a binder full of skills, statements, breathing exercises, mindfulness, etc and have practiced together in counseling. So I keep thinking he will be there when I need him, but he is only available 1 hour a week during counseling. At home nothing has changed, he is still distant, aloof, avoidant, oblivious – and I don’t know why. It is really starting to hurt, so I blew up.

His response was “So I’m just an A$$hole and our marriage is $hit”

What?? I didn’t call you that. I didn’t say that. At all. I said I don’t understand why you continue to not respond to me, that we have no connection, that I feel all alone, and I am getting worried that it will never change.

I tried explaining to him how it feels to constantly be ignored.  I keep waiting for him to come to me. Show an interest. Want to talk to me. Want to work on it. We are supposed to spend 20 minutes every day working on  exercises from couples counseling. He won’t do it. I keep wondering why he even goes to counseling at all if he won’t put any effort in at home. I’m trying so hard to continue to be patient, but this week I ran out. I reached my limit and I exploded. No more Mrs nice girl. Sorry honey.

It’s not me – it’s you.

Then this morning another defensive reaction from him, lashing out at me. We move our mattress last night and find the bed frame is full of fleas! We’ve been battling fleas for a few months now. We vacuum and spray. This morning we spend a few minutes talking about fleas and what else we need to do to get this under control. Boring informational talk.

He then has to go to work. I say, “Aww, I didn’t want to spend our morning talking about fleas”

He blows up and yells, “Sorry for ruining your morning” and storms out of the room

I was shocked, like he had hit me. WTF?

Appropriate responses he could have had:

“No, me either, stupid fleas” (common enemy)

“No, I’d rather spend it in bed with you” (flirty)

“Really? I love talking about fleas” (sarcastic)

“Yes too bad I have to go to work now” (understanding)

I told him that was a horrible thing to say and that he needs to control himself and stop lashing out at me. I’m not attacking him or saying mean things. When he says things like “So I’m an A-hole then, or I’ve ruined your morning” it devastates me, particularly in the middle of a calm, dull conversation to get a defensive reaction out of nowhere.. I do not call him names or put him down. I can’t predict what he will take as an attack, and I can’t live like this, the environment is too volatile here. He needs to get it figured out and fast. I no longer accept that it is my fault.

Then last night I log into a site called Relate To That, an online support group I joined, and another member actually posted a quote that seemed as if he was listening to me outside my car, and that he understood everything I was trying to say to hubby. I’m going to share that in the next post so that I can see it separately from this one, but please read it too so you can see how amazingly connected the universe was to me yesterday, even if Hubby was not.

 

Gottman, do try this at home

Couples counselor helped us to understand and process the feelings from my fearful walk the night before. I was only focused on the walk itself, how when my anxiety was so high, and I was reaching panic levels, how was my spouse supposed to support me as I begin to attempt these in vivo experiences and start living my life again? But the counselor showed us that yes, that is an important piece, but there is more, bunches more.

The counselor pulled out some worksheets and guided us through using it for the first time, using that walk as the topic. The worksheets were created by Gottman, titled Aftermath of a Fight or a Regrettable Incident. I’m familiar with Gottman for his marriage books, and I was confused by the title. Hubby and I didn’t have a fight. And what the bleep is a regrettable incident…who talks like that? Oh yeah…counselors do.

Counselor explained this worksheet is great any time a couple is experiencing different realities, are not in sync, seem to have trouble communicating clearly, or are on a different page. Oh…well, that describes Hubby and I pretty much any time we try to speak to each other. It’s like I say something and he is using a translator that gets close, but never quite it exactly.

Here’s my worksheet. 2 pages of fun.

aftermath1

aftermath2.PNG

So it took the entire hour of counseling to go through this worksheet with the counselor facilitating Hubby and I taking turns and discussing our feelings before, during, and after the walk. The walk itself lasted about 5 minutes before fear took over and we headed back home. Seems crazy to devote two blogs and an entire counseling session to it right? No, not at all. It only took a few minutes for PTSD to hijack my body and make me feel like I was dying. Even though I knew I was safe, I didn’t FEEL safe, and had all the same effects in my body as adrenaline took over. It took me hours to recover from that walk. I was unable to read to my kids that night. I was worn out and frazzled, shaking, cold, nauseous.

Hubby was unaware of all of that. He said he thought I was afraid to fall, so that even though I clearly expressed my anxiety was an 8 he still was thinking I had a physical fear from the surgery, not thinking I had any emotional fears at all.

I kept waiting for him to come up and check on me, but he was fine, so thought I was fine, because how could a 5 minute walk to the corner result in someone being unfine? Through this process, we both shared our point of view, without blame. At the counselor’s office, I felt safe to share what seemed like critical feelings towards Hubby that I tend to keep inside so I don’t hurt his feelings or get a bad reaction. I’m also ashamed of myself for being too afraid to walk down the sidewalk, so it is difficult to talk about to someone who does not understand. But doing that contributes to me feeling lonely, small, and unimportant.

We both left this session feeling closer and better understood. Also better prepared for how to tackle a future regrettable incident. It seems odd to plan to have regrettable incidents, but of course we are human after all, so it is better to prepare for crap than to think we can prevent the crap.

I’m so proud of Hubby for attending counseling with me and digging deep to find his emotional language. This is all new for him. He often gets stuck in the “explain what you were feeling” parts, and the counselor is patient and guides him through it. I just stay quiet. I know it is hard. I was there in that same boat several months ago. Now I can show off and list off multiple complex emotions within myself, all without passing out at all. But when you have not been trained to look within, to listen to yourself, to value your feelings, it is almost like they don’t exist. Now Hubby doesn’t have my traumatic history, but everyone has triggers and sensitivities. He wasn’t abused, but he grew up in a family without much affection and where yelling was the norm. He also learned to hide to avoid setting off tempers. Not as extreme as mine, but its there. That’s why we are finally making progress with a trauma focused couples counselor – he is treating both of us.

Counselor has been coaching Hubby in his own stress management, breathing techniques, and gave him a few phone apps to try for grounding and meditation, like “Stop, Breathe, Think”. I’m so hopeful (yes I used the ‘h’ word…) that he will find some relief and one day will notice the difference in himself. Like I can feel when tension starts creeping up on me now, but I used to live at stress level 8, always tense, and that’s where Hubby is, so every additional stressor sets him off. He suffers with headaches, heartburn, muscle tightness and cramps, poor sleep and needing too much sleep, feeling overwhelmed, upset stomach, and of course yelling at us to blow off steam.

Counselor also discusses our automatic reactions. Hubby did mention that he often feels powerless with me, and that one of his reactions is to do nothing. That’s why he leaves me alone and says nothing. When he is aware of my pain or struggle he feels powerless, with no tools to help, so he disappears and entertains himself to relieve his own discomfort. This insight was huge to understanding what makes Hubby tick, and that my automatic reaction of hiding in shame, well, no wonder we rarely come together during the event itself. So I need to work on telling him what I need, going to him instead of waiting on him to come to me. And he will work on realizing that for a while here, it is very likely that each new activity has the possibility to bring on a strong fear reaction and while I am experiencing strong fear, it becomes increasingly harder to communicate it.

PTSD sucks. I’m so grateful I have fantastic counselors helping Hubby and I navigate these difficult waters ahead. I feel like I have allies now. Something confusing or overwhelming happens, and instead of swallowing it down and moving forward, I see it as a learning opportunity to bring up during my next session. It is still hard. I’m still ashamed. I can’t look my counselors in the eye when I tell them about my problems. I sweat, get flushed, shake, squirm…But I’m there and I tell them because I want to get over PTSD and one day be free. They keep telling me it is possible, that I’m not a lifer.

What a flashback Feels like and how to cope

What does a flashback feel like? What does it look like?

I had some earth shattering ones yesterday, so the feelings are quite raw and fresh. I am going to attempt to describe the experience. Then I am going to add some research and comments from my counseling session yesterday as well. I don’t know if this is how everyone experiences flashbacks, if this is typical or not, all I can say is this is true for me.

So what happened yesterday that was so triggering? I had an entire day full of doctor appointments, pre-op assessments to prepare for my surgery next week. I actually had very little anxiety beforehand. I was not looking forward to a day of xrays, blood tests, EKG, physical exam, and anesthesia consult, but I had no panic in me.

So we start driving to the hospital, which is a large campus made up of many large buildings. As we get nearer I look up my first appointment desk and see that the building is the one I used to go to as a kid, where all of my pediatric orthopedic visits were when I was 11 and started back bracing, and 12 and had surgery, and then for years after for physical therapy and rehab to get a paralyzed limb walking again. Hmmm.

Although I had been going to this hospital campus for my migraines and back issues, I had not been in this particular building since I was a teenager. Is this enough foreshadowing for you?

So I walked in the building alone, Hubby dropped me off at the front door so I didn’t have to walk so far.

(He dropped me off just like my dad used to do. That thought didn’t actually cross my mind at that point, not consciously anyway. A-hole used to drop me off because he had a job where he was on call on a CB radio and would stay in the car, at work, while I went in for my doctor visits alone. At age 11, leaving me to deal with having severe scoliosis and whatever treatment the doctor said all alone. He always acted like it was the biggest inconvenience to have to even drive me there. He’d complain about the disruption to his day, how he’d be behind at work, how much the doctor was costing him. I always felt guilty and ashamed for having scoliosis, like it was somehow my fault and I failed him)

I made it into the lobby and started looking for the elevators, but somehow I already knew where to go, part of me remembered. I just started walking and got in the elevator. A nice man asked which floor, I smiled and said 2 please, but my lips felt funny when I smiled. Like they were too thick. And I wasn’t sure I actually said anything, but I saw him press 2 and we went up, so I figured the words must have come out of me. But it didn’t sound like me. It sounded like a stranger behind me or something, not me talking.

I got out on the second floor and the view there was like a bolt of lightning. I was going to radiology, the same radiology I had been to a ZILLION times for back xrays to check the progress of my spine curves. It looked the same, exactly the same. It opened up into the loft overlooking the lobby below, I could see the doors where I just came in. I was struggling to breathe, like someone was choking me from the inside out. Or like my stomach itself was choking me by coming up through my throat. I got dizzy, reached for the rail just in time and avoided falling. I’m not sure how long I stayed there. My mind went blank.

(This was a dissociative flashback, I  learned later)

I came back and I was crouched behind the “wait here for next available . . .” sign, shaking and confused. My arms were crossed tight around myself, head down, I was leaning against the railing now, knees bent a little, but not quite squatting or sitting, more like I was HIDING there. Behind the sign.

The clerk called me up, and I snapped to attention, my awareness returning. I shook my head and walked to the desk. I couldn’t think what I was supposed to say to her. She said “can I help you?” and I still wasn’t sure who or WHEN I was. I was looking at my hands and my cane and I was very confused. I saw the desk number and radiology on the sign and said “Is this the right desk?” She wasn’t sure, since she didn’t know what desk I needed, but was very nice to me and asked me my name, which I luckily was beginning to remember. She confirmed my appointment, checked me in, and asked me to have a seat. I did, and started doing grounding exercises.

I have a great app on my phone, called “What’s Up?” that has all sorts of breathing and grounding exercises in it. I opened that up and started doing some of the lists – Name 5 types of flowers (tulip, rose, daffodil, lily, peony), name 5 fruits (apple, banana, mango, papaya, kiwi)…

Hubby comes in then. He does the grounding with me, which is so much better than being alone. Next list is name 5 capital cities (we both crack up…umm, we should probably know some, neither of us could think of anything so we just named BIG cities instead) The laughing felt great. Just what I needed. The swirly head feeling was stopping.

I had the xrays with no major difficulty and proceeded to our next appointment which was back downstairs. We walked back over the loft, into the elevator, got out on the first floor and I froze again. This time I didn’t just feel dizzy and out of sorts. This time my feet disappeared. This time I felt sad and afraid. This time I re-experienced myself walking alone down the stairs next to the elevator, a grand staircase with full view of the lobby and loft. I both saw myself doing this like a movie I was watching, but also felt it like it was happening in real time. It overlapped my reality. Like a dream come to life. I was suddenly 12, carrying a huge package of my own xrays to this elevator, so that my surgeon could see my curves had gotten worse again this month, that the back brace was not slowing the progress of my scoliosis. I was 12, listening to a team of doctors talk about me in the hallway before showing me my films on the lightboard. Listening as they say, Oh NO! Look here, and here, we’ll have to get more aggressive or her lungs could soon be compromised. And then they smile as if I couldn’t hear them outside my door, and they give me news to relay to my dad, the A-hole sitting out in his car, who can’t be bothered to come in with me.

I don’t recall feeling fear, or sadness, or alone. I couldn’t I wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t able to. If I felt those things…I would not have been able to go into my doctor visits. I would have been consumed and unable to do what needed done. So in my memories, I don’t recall the feelings, because I was numb.

But in my flashbacks – now that I’m no longer numb – the feelings are attached. And INTENSE!!!

I thought I was going to die yesterday. The power of the sadness, and the pure terror pumping through me was bigger than anything I’ve felt yet.

I felt the fear and sadness of a 12 year old starting with 2 60 degree curves in her spine getting progressively worse each month, getting told her own back will crush her lungs and heart if they can’t stop it, that the bracing is not working, and that surgery is required and soon. I felt the fear of that little girl doing that alone while her parents were too busy, self absorbed, or too weak to support her. No one held her hand or hugged her. No one sat with her. No one told her it would be ok. No one even looked at her. In fact she was made to feel like a bother, a nuisance for having this dreadful disease, a shameful bother bringing down the entire family with its inconvenience and cost.

I nearly passed out. I couldn’t breathe. I forgot how to breathe and just stopped for a while. I couldn’t feel my feet or hands. My vision was both blurry and focused, like I could see only directly in front of me, but it was with super clarity like a microscope. Is that tunnel vision? And then I burst into tears. Gasping for air, and trying to cry, trying to walk, unable to talk, watching these movies but experiencing them in high-def with surround sound and surreal senses. I couldn’t see the real surroundings with these movies overlapping my vision. I wasn’t sure which people were real, which were memories. I wasn’t sure which me I was – was I 12 or 39? I kept fading in and out between the two ages.

Hubby took my wrist then, kept saying “It’s ok, I’m here with with you, let’s find a chair, I’m right here…”He guided me and I kept having the urge to run! but I was unable, without feet or vision or air in my lungs. His voice I knew, and trusted, and knew it was not a memory, his voice did not belong to me being 12. I followed his voice and let him take to a chair in a quiet hallway. He kind of pushed me into the chair, and told me “push your feet into the ground, feel the ground” He kept holding my hand and wrist and saying he was there with me, that I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure how long it took, but the storm calmed a bit, and I could see where I was again, but still couldn’t breathe, and was still crying uncontrollably. I was trying to do breathing exercises, square breathing is my favorite for calming, but I was unable to count for myself. I asked Hubby to count for me so I could focus. He had never done it before, so I had to teach him so he could then coach me.

In 4, hold 4, out 4, hold 4 – I said in between gasps. Geez I felt like I was in labor trying to breathe in between contractions. This was so hard to THINK!

He started and at first he was way to slow, in……1…….2……3…..4……. and since I was still gasping and hyperventilating I couldn’t come close to his slow pace yet. He sped it up. And said ‘in’ is 1. OH!

he tried again. In..2..3..4..hold..2..3..4..

Yes that’s it. I could feel the quivering in my lungs relaxing a little. His voice sounded so good. The images in my brain were fading and the wall in front of me was getting more distinct.

We sat there counting and breathing for several minutes, not sure how long. Until I could take a deep breath with the quiver and gasp, until I could feel my hands and feet again, until I knew I was 39 and not 12. At one point a nice gentleman came over to us and asked if he could read us some bible verses to help calm me, since I was obviously distraught. We declined, but I thought it was nice that someone was willing to reach out to us.

I stood up and looked over at the lobby, the stairs, the elevator…a little sadness returned, but it is something I can handle now. It is something I needed to know. I unlocked something major yesterday. I got a taste of what I felt growing up, but wasn’t able to feel, what I repressed and locked away so I could survive each day and keep going. It wasn’t safe to feel it back then and I had no one to help me. I do now. I’m safe now.

I made it over to the next check-in desk, a few minutes late for my next appointment, but the clerk there was so cheerful as she looked up my name, and then all of a sudden she started giggling – and shrinking! Her chair was broken and the hydraulic thingy kept making her sink below the desk all day she said, she said someone took her regular chair. Her silly, mundane, human issue of someone taking her chair and swapping it for the crappy one was suddenly hilarious to the both of us as she reached up from her low position and hopped a little to try to see the computer monitor. We both burst out laughing.

It was awesome.

Many people are good and kind. I don’t have to be afraid to talk and interact with everyone. I don’t have to hide my problems, people like to be helpful, and all people have their own problems.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So the couples counselor was nearly dancing for joy yesterday when we shared this with him. He said this was tremendous progress for us both, shows a level of trust in each other, a willingness to share and learn. And he said that by Hubby caring for me DURING this flashback, it actually negates some of the fear and sadness. He said joy and care are antidotes to fear, pain, and sadness so if I felt loved and cared for instead of ashamed and alone during this flashback, then I may have rewritten some of these memories. Now when I think of them, Hubby and his love and care will also be combined with it, instead of me being eternally alone. That’s why we are supposed to shed the light on the shame gremlins and blast them away with the care of another person – in the moment.

I didn’t realize how powerful that was until he explained it to me. I now have a new connection, a new neuron path that connects loving feelings of safety and care with Hubby to my scoliosis and hospital visits.

Wow.

Almost seems too easy, or impossible. Then I thought about the dream/nightmare imagery, how I’ve been able to think of new endings to some of my recurrent dreams with visualization and imagery. This is a similar process, only it works in reverse to rewrite history and lessen the power or recurrent flashbacks instead of nightmares.

I found a book by Joyanna Silberg, The Child Survivor: Healing Developmental Trauma and Dissocation.  I found an excerpt (page 201 of Silberg’s book shown below) where she discusses the time machine technique. But basically the technique involves imagining the scenario of the flashback but instead of just remembering it, you add something to it, make a change. My counselor said it can be something minor, like make your face green, doesn’t have to be as drastic a change as this. In this book, the author has children imagine they have superpowers and change what happened to them, or imagine saying something they wish they really had said. I see the power and value of this method to get unstuck, to break free of the memory rut. If you change the memory, you have broken that worn path, it no longer exists. You can’t change history, it won’t change what happened to you, but you can change how you think about it, and maybe stop reliving it. Really, once was enough.

silberg time machine

So last night I started imagining that instead of going to my doctor visits alone, my best friend went with me and we played cards in the waiting room. One trip I imagined I brought my dog with me and we played frisbee in the huge open lobby, I watched her running up the grand staircase. I tried to imagine that one time the doctor said I was all better, that my curves were getting better in stead of worse…but I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I can erase and rewrite the bad. But I can add in some good. I can add in some hugs and hand holding, and chocolate milkshakes. I can add headphones and imagine I was hearing great music instead of dad’s horrible words. Just imagine his mouth moving and not hear it – replace with umm, let’s see, age 12…I think I was into Madonna, Prince, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Tiffany, INXS, Guns N Roses, Phil Collins, Whitesnake and the entire soundtrack of Dirty Dancing nonstop from the year before. Both my cassette tape and my video tape were getting worn out. Patrick Swayze…Sigh.

Shut up Flashbacks. Nobody puts Baby in the corner!   🙂

Patrick Swayze will now accompany me in all of my flashbacks. Can’t hurt. Really can’t hurt. May not help a thing, I’ll let you all know how it goes. Next time I think of walking on that grand stair case at the hospital maybe it can look more like this.

Trauma focused couples counseling

I don’t hate the couples counselor, which after three sessions is saying a whole lot. Especially since I hated him before I met him, he started out negative and had to make his way to neutral, which he has.

Yes I’m judgy, highly critical, have nearly impossibly high standards, and mistrust most people. The thing is this dude gets me, because he knows these attributes come from a traumatized brain, part of the cptsd package and doesn’t take it personally. Or if he does he cries at home not in front of me.

I’m so curious at this point, that my curiosity keeps winning over my lack of hope, or belief that things can improve. I’ve never done this type of therapy. I’ve certainly never done it with hubby in the room too. We’ve done so much on our own in our 20+ years together, but always seem to get stuck in certain places. What if this dude can help get unstuck?

Well it sure would feel great to stop banging my head against the wall in frustration. Or talking to the wall in those times when I feel so completely misunderstood. If this dude is a trauma translator, hmmm, well I don’t know what could happen, but I’m curious.