Thursday, May 10, 2018

What you're saying is, I'm like a horse? (A therapy session with horses)

This post and my next post are going to be out of order of the way they happened in my life... I had a therapy session two days ago that is still kicking my butt. I feel like I have to write about it, so that maybe I can move through it more quickly and more effectively.

Also, a trigger warning for this one. Sexual abuse and stuff. I don't go into detail, but I list some of the memories I was flooded by, and it might be just enough detail to trigger you if you've been through similar experiences.

Last week, Todd and I did an interview with Mormon Stories. It was basically to tell the story of the abuse I had experienced, the complex PTSD I lived through (and feel like I am recovering from), and the way Todd had handled it that damn near saved my life - both as my bishop, as my friend, and now as my partner.

It is on video on the Mormon Stories Podcast page on Facebook, it's also available on YouTube and on the I plan to write more about that experience, but first... therapy that came a few days after that interview.

I told Wendy that many of my stories were fresh in my mind because of that interview. Some I had told, some I had chosen to gloss over or not tell at all, some that I had forgotten while I was trying to talk but felt very invasive in my brain now that I wasn't in front of a camera.

She asked what I was feeling in my body.
Tightness in my chest and throat. Tenseness and shakiness in my whole left side.

Since one of my very first sessions with her and her horses (three?) years ago, we both noticed that if she moved in to close to my left side I flinched. Not always, but if there was any emotional energy coming from me or her, I'd flinch. I wouldn't ask her to move. I rarely even moved myself. I just felt my left shoulder muscle tense. We've both made the connection to trauma and trying to protect myself and that seems to be the only body response I had when I first started seeing her that showed I was uncomfortable with her (or any other human) in my space.

We have experimented with horses moving up on the left side, and I don't feel any reaction. I'm also fine with horses moving around behind me, and don't feel the need to be aware of them most of the time. (Though, when a horse is more worked up, I do naturally pay more attention to them. Wendy has wondered if that is just that I actually am pretty in tune to energies, but humans just all make me uncomfortable.)

We started EMDR focusing on the tightness and tenseness. She asked me if I had anything to say.
"I'm sorry for speaking up. I'm not sorry for telling my story. I'm sorry for not protecting everyone from my story anymore. I'm sorry for telling people the things my ex husband did - especially since I know he has done so much work to change. I'm not sorry. I carried so many secrets and protected him and everyone for so long, I don't want to protect them anymore. I need to talk, and I want to help others who can't talk, but I'm really sorry... but not sorry."

And then I cried. My whole left side started shaking hard. I was flooded with memories.
Being in the car, and getting hit while he was driving.
My little brother touching my butt, and turning around and slapping him (without even thinking, I just did it.) Then getting in trouble, because that was never an acceptable way to deal with someone touching you. 
Sitting in the car next to the Stake Relief Society President. I told her that being touched by any human felt incredibly painful, like lightning going through my whole body. She then kept rubbing my neck and arm and asking, "does this hurt?" Back then, I froze. I just nodded, and my body shook a little, but I couldn't talk or really do anything more than sit there.

Back in the present, I wanted to strike out with my left arm and scream, "Don't fucking touch me. I just told you that hurts. What kind of a sick person then does things I JUST SAID HURT ME? STOP!" and, "I slapped him because he touched me. That is the perfect way to deal with that. MY FUCKING BODY. DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ME!"

Then I was flooded with memories of Larry. In my interview with Mormon Stories, John asked me why I never talked to Larry about wanting a better sexual relationship. The thing is, I did. But Larry got angry. He got mad. He told me that a woman was disgusting when she was turned on. She got wet down there, and it was so gross. He told me if I moved, that ruined his experience. When I cried, and begged him to stop, he put a pillow over my face or told me to shut up. My voice was completely useless. I also lacked the sexual experience and vocabulary to really express what was going on for me and what I wanted if I wanted anything. Because mostly I wanted him to stop touching me. Leave me the hell alone.

I told Wendy the energy in my left side felt like it wanted to fight, but I wasn't sure I had any real fight in me. She had me push against her hands (see the picture below). My left arm shook hard even though I don't think I was pushing hard against her.

This is an exercise I've done in therapy more than once. It seems to be a way to use my body to help the energy of the emotions move through me. The first time I was able to effectively use this, was when I realized I am a fighter, and I am proud of being a fighter. (see this post if you want to read more about it)
Then she did the most horrible thing she has ever done. She moved over to my left side. She has warned me this may be something we try in therapy. She even asked my permission a couple weeks ago. She put her hand up, so that I could push against it. I did, and then the whole left side of my body crumpled. Emotionally, I felt almost nothing. Cognitively, I was fascinated by my body's response (but unable to figure out why this was happening). Physically, I was standing, but only because I was hanging on to the rails of the horse (fence) panel with my right side. Daisy the horse had her nose up against my hand. Violet the horse was standing behind me. I felt very supported by them, so I kept trying to pay attention to the sounds of them licking and chewing and stomping their feet (and at one point Daisy squealing and kicking towards the fence away from me while still keeping her nose calmly touching my hand).

Wendy stepped a few steps away, put her hand down, and turned to face the same direction I was. (So if we were touching, we'd be shoulder to shoulder.) That helped my body to calm down a little, but still I was so tense and shaky, I was struggling to talk and breath for a few minutes at least. Then, just when I was feeling steady, she asked me to put her hand on her shoulder - as if I was pushing her away - but not actually to push her away unless I wanted to.

Again, I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I also felt like crying and curling up. I couldn't talk. I couldn't think. I tried with everything I had to remember why I was doing this, and to understand why this was so damn hard. There was zero brain available to me at that moment. As I started to get lightheaded, she moved herself back to facing me. I started breathing.

Then I asked her to explain what was happening.
PTSD caused a freeze response in me. My body froze in trauma over and over and over. It became a way to feel safe. It became a way of life. All of that trauma is now stored in the muscles, the nervous system, every part of my body has been affected. Specifically it seems it is now stored in my left side (for whatever reason). She wanted me to let the energy move through me, but then I got flooded, so she decreased the energy (put her hand down, turned to stop facing me, put her hands behind her back, etc.).

I laughed and said, "so I'm like a horse. Training my body is like training horses."
She shrugged her shoulders. She pointed out that she is trained in trauma and in horses. She tries to think about ways to help me. Sometimes she's right. Sometimes she's way off. We are experimenting together. But in this instance, she feels pretty confident, she was right, though the energy of her hand up and facing me was too much energy.

That session was two days ago.
I spent the afternoon after the session with my niece. We rode horses together. We spent a lot of time outside with the horses. We painted. We played with toys. Having her there was both a great distraction and a great reminder of the life I live now. I am dealing with past trauma, but it is not present at all. In the present, I live with Todd and horses and have so many amazing little kids in my life, and I was grateful for the respite.

My niece and I riding Sunny, the horse. I can't believe how happy it makes me to share horses with her and all of the other little kids (and adults) in my life.

That evening, we went to Hope of America to see Todd's granddaughter sing. I felt anxious the whole time. It was a big struggle to be able to just sit there. When they started singing about the military and how some will live and some will die, I ached. Some will live, but never be the same, and I'm angry that we don't do more for them. PTSD is awful to live through, but we keep sending people out anyway. Can we PLEASE find a better way? Or at least do more to take care of those we as a country keep damaging? The crowds of people felt overwhelming. Having people touch me - even brush up against me as we walked back to the car - I wanted to jump out of my skin.

Yesterday, I again felt shaky and teary and the muscles on my left side were so sore, I couldn't get them to relax. I was supposed to help teach a casting clinic (fly fishing), but couldn't imagine trying to focus on casting when my brain didn't quite feel like my own.

Last night I kept having nightmares, and woke up this morning crying.
I was being flooded with memories - just quick flashes.
A penis coming at my face. Waking up to being touched on my breasts and genitals. Waking up to being raped. Holding my own legs out of his way. Unwanted hugs. My boss rubbing my shoulders and being unable to ask him to stop. Feeling fear at night that kept me from falling asleep. Being hit in the car. RS President touching my neck. Stake President wanting a hug. Nightmares I had when I was a child of my grandparents' basement. Being coerced into performing oral sex when it made me sick and I wanted to bite it off rather than the pleasure the bastard it was attached to. Pillows over my face as I cried. Begging him to stop. Fighting him off, but it didn't help anyway. Dissociating and watching from the corner of the room as Larry did his thing and I just laid there like I was dead or a limp doll.

At the same time, feeling the energy in my left arm. (Now the muscles were downright spasming!) I laid there in my bed, and hit it with my left fist as hard as I could and yelled, "Don't fucking touch me!" over and over and over.

(Then I thought about that one time ten years ago when Wendy had me beat a couch cushion with a tennis racket. She was trying to do the same thing for me then that she's trying to do now. I'm a lot better at it now.)

I feel a little better now. I still feel sad and tense and maybe a little broken. I also know this won't last. It's nothing like I have experienced in the past (though the most intense I have experienced since starting therapy with Wendy and her horses).

I was supposed to help with a fly fishing clinic again today. I am not. They didn't need my help - taking people fishing is one thing our fly fishing club is good at, so they had enough volunteers. I wanted to go, because I wanted to be involved in something I enjoy and love doing and teaching it to women who have never fly fished before would be an awesome experience. Except, I needed a day to sit down and write. I needed a day to spend time with my own horses. I needed a day to be alone to process all that my poor brain and body is trying to process. I am missing something I would have really enjoyed if I wasn't going to therapy to work so hard for a better life. I also feel lucky that I could take part of a day just for me. (I also worked for a bit and will probably work more. Sometimes my brain needs a break, and there's some work to be done. Not much since we had planned to take the day off to go to the fly fishing clinic.)

Anyway... My latest session. If I could stand to have someone give me a massage, I could sure use one. 

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