I saw my therapist twice last week. It wasn’t planned that way but something happened in my first appointment that left me overwhelmed and a little rattled. We ended our session rather bluntly, in the middle of me recalling something pretty upsetting. He is always very good about making sure I don’t leave his office in a state of distress. He watches the time, because I rarely do, and he takes the time to ground me and bring me back into the present moment if I need it. But this time, he lost track of time and he needed to go. I was reluctantly ok with that, as I do respect his schedule and hate being or feeling like I’m a burden, so we ended. It was just really hard and took some serious effort to pack things away. He offered to meet again later in the week if I felt like I needed to, so I took him up on that and we did.
That was a bizarre session for me. We were talking about different things. I had previously gone two weeks without seeing him and I was still trying to catch up, as a lot had come up internally, and at home with my husband. Nothing felt threatening and I was not really thinking I would be processing trauma that day. The conversation was balanced. We were talking about me feeling pressured to make certain choices, and fear issues, and some upcoming travel plans, which led to a conversation about my parents. He asked me a question and I answered it including details about locations I have been remembering being in with people I don’t know yet who they are…in a large house, out in the woods, a concrete building, a tunnel, in a car. “Wait, what tunnel?” he says. More questions came and before I know what’s happening, I was knee deep in a memory about being in a dark car with a strange man, in a tunnel. Tears started streaming down my face. I had no idea why. That’s all I saw. The car. The tunnel. The man. Another little girl. Nothing horrific. But the tears continued flowing and I started feeling something in my face. My face was burning. The pressure was so intense. The bridge of my nose hurt, my cheeks hurt, my sinus’ hurt, behind my eyes hurt. Was my body remembering something related to this that I could not??
What the heck is happening right now?? Why am I crying? Why does my face hurt? What just happened? How did I get here??
He asked another question. And another. My words shut down. I couldn’t talk anymore. And all I hear in my head is this small little voice screaming…screaming, in complete panicked terror… Stop talking! Stop talking! STOP TALKING!!!!
He obviously could see in my face that something big was going on inside my head. So he prods to get me to talk and tell him what it is. I eventually mustered out I’m trying to understand what’s happening right now. Why am I crying? Why does my face hurt? There’s a voice in my head screaming at me to stop talking. “What voice? ” A child’s voice. “What is it saying?” She’s screaming…screaming...stop talking! Why can’t you talk? Who’s telling you not to talk? You are an adult. No one has any control over you. You can tell me what you see. No one is forcing you not to. You are in control. You make your choices. No one else is here with us. You are safe here. I started to feel so overwhelmed and angry and just wanted him to stop talking because I couldn’t do anything that he was telling me to do.
I have read in many books about trauma about the concept of our “inner child.” I never really understood or bought into the idea. It sounded a little out there to me. Psycho mumbo jumbo. Weirdness. But I was wondering in that moment…is this for real? Is this my voice screaming? Is “younger me” telling me to stop talking? That it’s not safe? Is “she” keeping me quiet? I felt so crazy and wondered if I had hit a wall and was losing it in this moment. But I was curious at the same time. But I still couldn’t talk. I was shut down. And this is where the session had to end.
In my second session things went similarly. He went back to the memory and we talked a little more about it. He was asking questions again and I said something about water. Water? And just like that, there I was again in another place I had not seen before…except I realized later I have…parts of it in a dream. Being a normal human being, he started processing himself the information that I have been sharing. He starts to talk about the sheer amount of trauma I have experienced and how many layers there are and how my stories are like things you just read about happening somewhere else. “This is so unbelievable…it’s believable,” he said. As I listened to him process, though, I felt defensiveness rise up in me. I start thinking, What do you mean unbelievable? Which was a curious reaction in and of itself because I don’t even believe myself. Oh no, he’s right, and I’m right, this isn’t even real. It’s too out there and crazy. I’m nuts. Go home. Just shut this down and GO HOME.
He doesn’t believe us…he doesn’t believe us!! Stop talking!
US?!? What is wrong with me??
And there the little voice was again. Telling me to stop talking. Protect myself. Don’t give anything else away. Get out of there. Run. And I shut back down. It was an immediate response. My therapist eventually said he thought it was interesting that I said “stop talking, he doesn’t believe us…” I paused to think about this and asked him (and myself) in exasperation, “Who’s us??” He looked back at me and said again he thought it was a younger version of me trying to stick to the same old protocol I was taught as a child…to stay silent. “Is that even a thing?” I asked, and he shook his head yes. He told me he doesn’t really focus on or talk about that kind of stuff because he sometimes dislikes these types of psychological theories that are taught. But he explained it more in depth in that moment because he said he knew I needed to hear it, and to try to help me make sense of what I was experiencing.
One thing he told me that stuck out was, when looking back at memories from the past, we see them different ways. Sometimes, the things that come to me, I see from the vantage point of me looking down and witnessing the situation. Other times, I am actually re-experiencing something and see what I saw or feel what I felt in those moments. He described our inner child as a navigator and to look at those times when I see things as an outsider looking in on a situation as “younger me” showing me what happened. This really impacted me in a big way. I use this type of “remembering” as my proof sometimes that this stuff, this abuse, didn’t really happen to me. That I’m just making it up. Because how could I know what I looked like in that moment if I was the one who was experiencing it? I wouldn’t see it like a movie. I would remember how I experienced and felt it, right? I couldn’t actually see it. But younger me can take adult me by the hand and take me there and say, “Look…look what happened to us…”
I’m not sure I buy into this idea 100% yet, but I am definitely more willing and open to exploring and experimenting, and will maybe even talk to and interact with “younger me” from time to time as my therapist suggested. Is she the key to unlocking the mysteries inside of me? Will she show me more or help me connect more dots? I don’t know. But for now, I want to welcome her into my life. I want to know who she is and what she needs because I have no memories of myself as a child. I don’t even recognize some pictures I have of me, as me. I am curious enough (and desperate enough) to see if learning how to draw her out of hiding and engage with her will help me heal like all the “experts” on this sort of thing claim. I want to know who I was so I can understand myself better now.
Hey there, little one…don’t be afraid. It’s ok. Do you need to talk? Do you have something to share or show me? It’s ok. You can trust me. I’m safe…
And as I wrote that I heard in my head “I’ve heard that before…”