Lit on Fire from the Inside Out; and, a Glimpse at Therapeutic Missteps

TW: (I should probably just make a general warning sign for my page) this post will contain reference to self-harm, abuse, rape, and suicide. It’s going to be a doozy, so read with care.

I have cut on three separate occasions within the last 6 days. The first was at midnight on New Year’s Eve/New Years. The second was while watching Thirteen Reasons Why. (I like to believe that I am immune to triggers. Clearly it is time I admit to myself that I am not). The third was right after therapy yesterday.

I have had suicidal thoughts so many times within the last 6 days that I cannot even count. They weren’t something I was worried about until yesterday. I was in such a bad state that I had to put aside all other plans for the day and sedate myself. The only way I could be certain I wouldn’t kill myself then and there was to be unconscious. I’d like to say that I woke up this morning feeling all refreshed and happy to be alive but it doesn’t really work that way. I still feel terrible but I had dreams upon dreams which let me get in touch with a lot of the buried bits that were causing so much pain. So, without further ado, I’m going to share those revelations and experiences with you now.

I won’t speak much about the first instance of self-injury because it has to do with the rape I endured on a previous New Year’s day. I mention that incident in great detail on another blog. I will say, however, that I was doing pretty okay that night. I thought I had things orderly enough. But then my friend invited me to hang out with her and a group of our mutual friends. This doesn’t seem like a big deal but it was the same friend who, on the night of my rape, got tired of me and left me with the guy who decided he would “take care of me.” I have always had conflicted feelings about the events of that night. On the one hand, I have anger that she just gave up on me like that, that she didn’t stay and make sure I was safe. Because, that’s what best friends are supposed to do, right? On the other hand, I know I was difficult. She thought I was drunk. And, maybe I was. But, I had only had two drinks. Drugged was more likely. Regardless, she was exasperated. I was belligerent, at least from the perspective of everyone at the party. I wasn’t trying to be; I just literally couldn’t move my limbs. I couldn’t make myself get off the floor. It was like my brain was online but it wasn’t communicating with my body. So when I said to just leave me there, that I couldn’t go to the other room, I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I was trying to protect myself and to unburden them. But, to them it didn’t seem that way. She called the cops on me. The cops didn’t do anything, just made someone carry me to a bedroom so I could “sleep it off.” That’s when my friend and everyone else left. That’s when I was raped. Logically, I know that I can’t blame her for my getting raped. I can’t blame her any more than I can blame myself. (But, I do. I do blame us both). I know that the only real person to blame is the rapist. Yet, somehow… my fucked up brain won’t let me go there. And so, when my friend invited me to another party this New Year’s my brain went to all of these places. Eventually, it ended up at, “I’m trash.” Trash for not being able to go to another party. Trash for being at that one in the first place. Trash for not being more careful with what I drank. Trash for being so awful my best friend left me with a guy I barely even knew. And trash for not fighting back when he ripped me open from the inside. Trash. So, I cut.

The next time I cut was while watching the show Thirteen Reason’s Why. If you’ve seen it then maybe you can see some parallels between my experience and Jessica’s. She was drunk at a party and raped. It’s the perfect teen drama, rape narrative. We see it over and over again on ABC family and in Young Adult novels, and now YA novels turned Netflix original. It’s so overdone because it happens. Those warnings, “watch what you drink”, “never accept a drink from someone you don’t know”, etc. Yeah, those warnings exist for a reason. Because shit like this is real. And, yeah, it really shouldn’t be up to us to keep ourselves from being raped. We should be able to have fun, to enjoy, to let our guard down. But, rapists exist and society doesn’t tell them to “watch where you put your penis”, “or never accept a vagina from someone you know can’t consent.” (Wording used to mimic the “feminine warnings”). And, so, Jessica in the show gets drunk. Her boyfriend can’t protect her. Her friend hiding in the closet cannot protect her. She gets raped because a rapist chose to rape. Not only this but some episodes later Hannah gets raped. (Sorry, for spoilers if you haven’t watched the show). The ice cold, dead inside look that fills her eyes as this guy she barely knows fills her being… I know that look. I feel that soul death in my core. I should have stopped the show in any one of these instances; I should have chosen one of my safe activities. I should have text someone or called someone or done something. But, I didn’t. Instinct. I grabbed a razor.

It would have been one or two cuts that time but I left the damn show running. And, some time later (no idea how much later) her boyfriend is being choked by his abusive “step-father” (or the mother’s asshat boyfriend). My brain latches on and takes me for another whirlwind journey. I’m 6, maybe 7. My father has my brother up against the wall. He is choking him so hard that I think my brother is going to die. I’m crying. Yelling at my other siblings that we have to do something. We have to stop him. I pick up the phone, try to call 9-1-1. My sister stops me. She calls the neighbor. I don’t remember what happens after that. But, I remember the terror from everything before. And, that terror fresh, I cut a few more times. Let it release the pain.

The last time I cut this week, yesterday, was right after therapy. And I do mean, “right after.” I went to session already feeling like I had been lit on fire from the inside. I felt raw and exposed. I had finished watching Thirteen Reason’s Why that morning while I had my coffee. So that was fresh, plus the other incidents from just the day before, and a few days before that. I almost cut again that morning but I was able to stop myself, knowing that I would see my therapist. But I wasted the session. She asked me what was on my agenda; if I was coming with anything pressing I needed to talk about or get out. And, I froze. I didn’t say a damn thing. I just shrugged. So, she took initiative, decided we would practice walking mindfully through a non-threatening event. This way, eventually, we can do the same with events that lead to my cutting (or whatever other shit behaviors I have). I don’t really want to do this “chain” activity but I go along with it because I trust her. It’s going fine initially. We go through the mundane activities of my morning routine. But then we reach a point where she just isn’t seeing the picture. It isn’t clicking for her the way I’m describing it. This really isn’t a big deal. It should not have been a big deal, except that the rational, adult thinking version of me was not there. Who knows where that me was and when she checked out. What I found happening was her inability to get it and my frustration at not being able to explain took me back to a younger time. A time when my father would be forcing me to do something that I didn’t want to do and I wouldn’t do it right. He would get so frustrated with me and he would get this look in his eyes like he could kill. I’d want to quit. Self-preservation. But if I tried to walk away he would explode. Many times his explosions really would put my life in jeopardy. I don’t think he ever intended to risk my life so nonchalantly. Had he ever actually hit me the knife or whatever, I think he would have had remorse. Still, that’s where I was. So, I tried to tell her, I was struggling with myself to keep going. I told her that my mind just wants me to bail, to give up. She told me to table it and keep going. She said we would get back to those feelings. I just wanted her to understand that I didn’t feel safe going on but I felt so stupid for feeling the way I felt. She was being gentle with me and there was still some part of me that could acknowledge that she was safe and that this activity wasn’t the same. I just felt like I didn’t deserve to feel the way I felt, so I kept pushing. I did what I always did when I was little, stuffed it all down and soldiered on. When we finally finished and she brought my feelings of wanting to quit up, I couldn’t talk about them. I mean, what difference would it have made anyway? I felt like I was not being heard or seen. I felt misunderstood. I felt like my choice had been taken away in a space where I always felt like I had choice before. I felt like my safe space had been turned into another place of “just suck it up.” And when I looked at her eyes, I didn’t see the warmth or encouragement I usually saw. I saw her own tiredness and sadness. So, we didn’t talk about any of this.

I did, however, add fuel to the fire by fessing up to having cut with only 5 minutes left in session. Yes, I know… what is that a hand-on-the-door-knob confession or some such nonsense? Well, yeah, that’s what it came to… I felt like she should know at least something was going on… in hindsight, I should have just stuffed that, too. Because, I just added shame to the mess of things I was already feeling. She saw that and asked me what I was feeling after having told her that I cut. I told her, “shame.” She said, “I can see that but I wanted to confirm. Your whole body language changed. You cast your eyes down, you leaned forward, sat at the edge of the couch. I can see the shame.” Then she said something lovely about not wanting to change me but working on the chain because it will get us to changing these behaviors. Blah, blah. I don’t really know because I was sort of checked out. I decided to change the subject by way of diversion, otherwise known as “Oh, hey! I have a gift.”

I had a wee figurine to give her for her sand tray collection; it was a little Wonder Woman I got at Movie Trading Company. I thought maybe her clients could make good use out of it. I mean, sometimes I wish I had a WW to protect me. Or, that I was a Wonder Woman. I do not use the sand tray though. Therapist and I established this early on: sensory issues. Anyway, I placed the teeny Wonder Woman on her shelf with the rest of the figures. My therapist seemed pleased but I didn’t actually feel anything from her response. As we were both standing already, I asked if I could give her a hug (usually I ask the other way around, “may I have a hug”). I thought maybe that would help me contain everything I was about to leave with; she said, “yes, of course, always. Thank you for asking.” The hug was nice enough, though she doesn’t let me hug as long as I’d like. I start to feel clingy when she rubs my back. It feels like this is a sign of “okay, we’re done now”, so I always pull away. It’s entirely possible she doesn’t mean it that way… but you just get this feeling that the other’s shield has reversed polarity or something. It’s weird. I don’t know. All of that to say, the hug did nothing to contain all of my feelings. I was just feeling too much. And that was it… that was my session, it was time to take my damn feelings and go. I picked up my bag, picked up my shame, walked out the door, and walked straight to the bathroom.

I did text my therapist later, told her about the shame, told her that I cut. Her response just made me feel worse (though I don’t think it was a necessarily “bad” response). She said:

“I know that the shame you feel sounds overwhelming. It happened. The urge was there and so consider how it is helping to beat yourself up? Consider what purpose it is serving. I hope to see you Monday.”

I just got hung up on, “the shame […] sounds overwhelming.” Like, she couldn’t see that it actually was overwhelming. And, in fact, it really wasn’t the shame that was overwhelming. It was all of it and I couldn’t tell her all of it via text. Then I got hung up on that whole what good does beating yourself up do bit. Like, no shit… do you think I want to be beating myself up over this? No. News-fuckinig-flash, people don’t beat themselves up over things because they like the way it feels. I was spiraling. I text back:

“I shouldn’t have text. I think that just made it worse. It isn’t just the shame.”

In response to this she said, “Anything you can do to shift the moment will be helpful. A walk. A movie. Calling someone. My hope remains.”

That hope bit helped a little. She always tells me that she is holding hope for me when I feel hopeless. So, I chose to hold onto that and I called someone. That was a damn mistake. The person I called couldn’t have possibly understood. She was really abrasive with trying to force me to talk it all out, when I was just sobbing and sobbing like a tiny child.  I ended up saying “nevermind, this was a mistake.” And then hanging up on her. I took 6 sedatives and fell asleep for 15 hours because I had spun the web of feelings and thoughts so tightly that the only way out that I could see was to just kill myself. And I know, somewhere deep inside myself, I knew that wasn’t a reasonable solution. Sleeping it off, however, was the best I could come up with.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not a fire fighter because I’m not very good at putting out fires, especially not metaphorical ones that erupt when I spontaneously combust from the inside out.

26 Thoughts

  1. WOW!!!!!!!!
    I totally relate! …. please don’t feel you need to gift me to listen bc I totally understand. I hate fire, every definition of it, metaphorically and realistically, it’s unpredictable and I am calculated so when my emotions are everywhere, no one responses the way I need them too and it fuck’n sucks bc I always stuff it. Although I do not cut, I poison myself.

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  2. I am happy you slept! Thank you for staying KD. I truly love your spirit. Stay and talk to me any time. I’ll need you too. Bet. (⬅️That’s like promise, but I don’t make promises)

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    1. Thank you so much for all of your kind comments and the validation. It’s hard when you know that no one is going to hit the mark when you need someone to, no matter how kind of well-meaning they typically are. I think part of my struggle was just knowing I had to go it alone because everything I tried made the fire grow hotter.

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      1. It will always feel alone, honestly. That’s why I shut down and that isn’t healthy either. We have found each other and will find other’s in this community. Things don’t happen by coincidence. In my opinion. This can be your safe space.

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  3. I found Thirteen Reasons Why very triggering as well, and haven’t made it all the way to the end. I’ve read a lot of the commentary which complains that “it’s wrong to give the idea that suicide is a valid/the only reponse to rape” and I think that it rather misses the point that her suicide was not just about that one thing. In my opinion the series actually portrays very accurately the insidious build up of hopelessness that comes from repeated traumas and the feeling that no-one sees or cares, and I think it is being able to identify with those feelings as much as anything else that is depicted which is triggering (or at least it was for me).

    I’m glad you kept yourself safe even if knocking yourself out was the only way to do it. I hope you can bring yourself to talk to your therapist about how bad you’re feeling at the moment and the fact that her approach in the last session was triggering in itself. Feeling misunderstood and unsupported really sucks even if it is unintentional.

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    1. I think you’re right, it really does depict the build-up quite well. How little t traumas can compact and amplify the effects of big T Traumas. That, and as you say, identifying with the not being seen or heard really is very triggering. Just feeling the reality of the characters’ experiences was heavy.

      And thank you, for your last paragraph. I guess I hadn’t realized that in knocking myself out, I actually was engaging in self-care, in a way. Maybe not ideal but it kept me alive. So, maybe that’s a small victory.

      I do plan to talk to my therapist about yesterday. I sent her an email and let her know it’s there but that we can talk about it/read it together next session. Hopefully it goes okay. I’m not gunna lie, I’m scared.

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  4. My heart goes out to you. This was so painful to read as you were the victim and now to be hurting yourself makes me feel so hurt for you and to feel your hurt. I listened to a video post on flashbacks on Friday and it said that basically these kind of flashbacks are the psyche telling you its time to face the event. That said its challenging to face and feel the associated feelings. I relate to feeling that what a therapist said in response to a way we ‘seem’ to be feeling or hurting can be triggering. I hope you find some courage to face it all with her though without letting your critic dissociate from her out of unconscious fear. In order to heal the self punishment has to end. You dont deserve it although I know its your way of dealing with the pain. Sending you love. ❤

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    1. I’d be interested in the video, if you were able to find it again. And, thank you for your compassion. I’ve been hurting myself for so long now that I guess I don’t even think of it as anything out of the ordinary now… which is sort of rubbish. I bought this self-compassion workbook as a supplement in non-therapy times, hoping it will help with putting a stop to the self-punishment. But only sometimes is the cutting punishment. Many times it’s just trying to end the overwhelming emotions. It’s like when I’m making my coffee-shake in the morning. I mix hot coffee, the protein powder, and cold cashew milk. The pressure of the hot and cold liquids create a pressure in the cup, so I always have to open the lid to release the pressure. My emotions and the cutting are like that.

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      1. I do understand but if you dont find a way to be with your emotions or express them they will destroy you. I hope you can get to work with the self compassion book. It is hard to hold our own hand and feelings but it can be done. When I can find the link to that video I will post it or share it with you. Do take care of you. You were so badly hurt. It wasnt your fault You did nothing wrong you were just very very vulnerable. to harm. Hugs and love ❤

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      2. I was also wondering Do you think you could be terrifed by the degree of anger you must feel that this happened to you. I would also be feeling the same way about a friend who left me even if they did not cause an event to happen I would be feeling that sadness of being unprotected. It could be that you fear you wont be held or protected even by your therapist if you face these feelings again. Its just a thought. I know it isnt much help as the painful feelings and sensations are what are so hard to deal with obviously. Its so hard and it is very very scary to face this.

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        1. I think you’re absolutely onto something with that. I am definitely afraid of feeling unprotected if I face the feelings again. As I feel I am facing them already, in a way, and I do feel alone with them.

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          1. Yes that is the most difficult part. That feeling that you were all alone and overpowered by the force of someone who should have cared for you. It would be entirely understandable for you to feel great rage and in my experience not everyone understands this aspect of things. how overpowering it all feels. I am so sorry you feel so alone. I am here but that probably no help much. I do understand. ❤

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  5. There is a lot of criticism out there aimed at Thirteen Reasons Why for glamorizing suicide and having extremely sensitive scenes. There was one scene that still sticks with me and definitely triggered a lot. It could be an interesting conversation to have with your therapist if you have not already.

    I’m sorry you have had such a rough start to the New Year. Of course that is going to be a triggering experience. It’s a trauma reaction. And while I don’t think your friend is to ‘blame’ for what happened to you (like you said, that’s on your rapist), I think it’s completely understandable if you have some anger about being left. It doesn’t feel good in general to have a friend abandon you, especially when the consequences are that severe.

    As far as the ‘hand-on-the-door’ confession, welcome to the club. You got it out during session, consider that a great first step. It opens the door to a conversation next time you see her and now you’ve had time to prepare for it. If you can, try not to shame yourself; we are not perfect human beings. We struggle with a lot. Take the insight that you got from this and learn from it as you can. Take care X

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    1. I hadn’t even considered the Thirteen Reasons Why as a conversation starter with my therapist but I can see how you’re right, it could make interesting conversation. I have so far skirted completely around talking about any of my own trauma, so maybe that’s a way in… bc I am blocked.

      I really like your perspective on the hand-on-the-door confessions. It makes me feel better about the whole thing. Always good to be reminded that I am human too. I never give myself the same grace I extend to others.

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    1. It is like that thing they say, “like a train wreck, you just can’t look away.” I am so busy convincing myself that I’m a hardass and that I am totally not affected by my past pains. But, it seems, the longer I’m in therapy, the more I start to feel things… so, now I can’t pretend not to be bothered by triggering things like Thirteen Reasons. I am totally bothered. Healing hurts, I think.

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  6. So sorry you have been struggling more recently. I had never heard of Thirteen Reason Why until I read your blog, but after reading everything you and others had to say I will not be watching it.
    The work of healing is so very difficult and it can be very hurtful that most individuals just don’t understand the time, effort and tears you put into healing your particular hurt. I wish I had some words of comfort for you, something that would bring your pain back to a manageable level, but all I have is my prayers for you.
    It is tempting to say at this point “your not alone”, but I know what it is like to to hear these words and think “well where are you when I need you?”. Sometimes you just need someone who is both emotionally and physically there. Sending a hug your way, but I know it is a poor substitute for the real thing.

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    1. I think there is certainly merit to the story but perhaps they could have gone about it in a better way. Indeed, the work of healing is much more painful than I effort thought it could or would be. Your prayers and cyber hugs are very much appreciated. I really have felt embraced by the blogging community these last few days and that has been so touching.

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