One Tree At A Time

choclate cake

For the past year and seven months since I’ve begun having regular flashbacks, I have been hell-bent on being heard, asking questions, and demanding answers. I went into therapy with “A” for the specific purpose of diving headlong into my past, willing myself to come through on the other side as a survivor. A continued to ask me to slow down, but listened and allowed me to process my past at the pace I deemed necessary, and the more I processed, the more trauma-focused I became. I couldn’t purge it fast enough; it was nice to be heard and validated. It was nice to feel safe.

A year later, I came through on the other side, and had quit seeing A for a month or two. Through a series of events over the past few months, not only did my PTSD symptoms return, they seemed to double in force. I returned to A, who stated my symptoms were beyond her expertise, and she recommended I be evaluated for some sort of intensive outpatient program. I jumped around to several therapists until I found a therapist who specializes in trauma, and who is a Christian.

I do not know exactly why my symptoms have slowed drastically since this change in therapists, and it is probably for several reasons. However, her technique is vastly different that even I have been trained in (including her asking so many questions I do not have the ability to think long enough to shut down in session). I have been seeing her weekly for over a month, and we have not delved into my past at all. She uses metaphors with me. The first one was of me running a marathon, and that me falling prey to my symptoms was like me veering off-course. She said her goal is to help me process the trauma while I stay on course, without me spiraling into what I had before. She also likened this process as me walking into the woods; if I look ahead at all the woods, I’d be terrified and overwhelmed. Our goal is to process one tree at a time, and though it is hard to walk into the woods, she would give me the tools to conquer just one tree at at time.

Finally, last session she told me I was ready to begin the slow process of approaching a tree. She recommended several books, including the two I chose, “On The Threshold of Hope” by Diane Langberg, and Not Marked by Mary DeMuth (I chose this one because Mary is writing from the perspective of a survivor and her husband is writing from the perspective of husband of survivor; I want my husband to be able to come alongside as best he can). “C” told me to read in very small increments, and if I started to feel any anxiety at all, I was to close the books immediately and distract myself. Not only would this build my tolerance and strengthen my ability to control symptoms, it would give me a sense of choice and control that I had lost in my trauma.

I am trying to take one page at a time, just as I am trying to take one day at a time. I have been fairly level, but extremely sensitive to triggers. However, if I can remove and isolate myself immediately, usually I can calm down again and will be fine the rest of the day. This is nearly impossible with a husband who is basically home this summer and two young kids. I am having more good days than bad, and my bad moments are not always lasting a day. I am feeling things that I have not felt in a while, like light anxiety (versus panic attack anxiety) and light sadness (versus the level of shame that drives my self-harm).

Slowly but surely, I am moving forward. When I have a full bad day, I am discouraged because I tasted freedom and it tasted like the best chocolate cake I have ever had. I would like to eat this chocolate cake every single day, and enjoy every taste in my mouth. After having chocolate cake, a bad day tastes like spoiled food that has been dumped into the trash. Even a bite of trash after chocolate cake drives me to self-harm more quickly than usual. My goal is to learn to sit with the trash in my mouth until the bad taste passes. I heard once that instead of self-harm, sit in a chair and grip it as hard as you can and force yourself to just sit. But that doesn’t work for me. Running helps immensely. Running hurts much worse than any self-harm I inflict, and it is healthy and shuts off my racing thoughts. My goal is to stop self-harming, but my first memory of self-harm was when I was about 4 years old. That is 24 years of bad coping to deal with. And slowly but surely, as I conquer one tree at a time, my desire to self-harm will diminish. When I make it through to the end of the forest, I know the shame and desire to harm myself will fade because the roots will be gone.

One tree at a time.

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I decided to find another therapist

This time a Christian and a specialist

She explained dissociative disorders

In a way that was less frightening

And gave tips on teaching my son to be mindful

I walked away both comfortable and okay

And as for my primary therapist

I guess it’s time to say goodbye

I cried in front of her a few times

That’s so rare.

I mean really really cried in front of her

She normalizes my struggles as a parent

Normalizes my struggle with self-harm

The part of me that carries anger

Trusts her.

So rare.

She normalizes my transference and says

“You can always keep me in your back pocket”

When I am dissociated

She teaches me to walk down into the dungeon

And pull my little girl out

She addresses my little girl

And that is what I need at times

She gives me a juice box and sometimes two

Last time even a granola bar

Because I didn’t eat breakfast

And now I must say goodbye

I felt so safe with her

When do you choose to find someone new

When the choice is safety versus

More specialized treatment?

Will I heal with this new person?

Or will I fall apart with every

time I must separate from someone I trust

For the rest of my life?

Am I making a good choice?

What if I miss her?

Am I stupid because I have attached?

I quit once because I realized I was attached

And now I must leave for good

Where will the rage inside go

If I am not safe anymore?

I need a hug.

And. My. Therapist.

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Rapid Cycling


I am unsure what exactly is causing this, but I have been rapid cycling the past few days… and not quite in a bipolar way; I do not have bipolar or any form of a mood disorder! I am going from bouncing off the walls and screaming with joy (which my son is quite enjoying), to being curled up in a ball afraid of the world, to crying as hard as I can, to yelling, to crying, to bouncing off the walls… mostly partially dissociated. All in a matter of an hour! I’ve had several triggers this week, both personal and professional, and I wonder if my mind has just reached a sort of max. Or maybe it’s simply trying to cope with the news that I’ve agreed to stop seeing Therapist #1 for a few months. She is a major safety, where my transference goes. My inner child needs to be on her couch- I need to sit and cry (crying is a quite recent symptom for me too) and become dizzy and go mute, and then pull out of it in the hour and a half I see her. I have never left her office in a daze because I feel safe. I always leave with a smile and a juice box- sometimes she gives me two juice boxes! Any anxiety left over on the drive is taken out on the straw that is chewed unrecognizable by the time I pull into my driveway. Then I am fine for a few days.

Therapist #1 has recommended that I begin an intensive outpatient therapy of sorts, with therapy 3x a week (which she cannot accommodate), a DBT support group, and a psychiatrist. She wants me to go on the waiting list at a nearby hospital’s mental health program. This is what I would recommend for a client going through what I am attempting to manage. My husband and I have discussed this at length and we just cannot afford to do this. We have decided to try an unconventional route… I am hating the Christian counseling center; it triggers me to no end, and renders me incapacitated to drive home. The only reason I made it home after session last week was because I was clutching my son’s Lego as hard as I could into the steering wheel (a grounding technique I learned with Therapist #2- whom I am not seeing regularly either- that I’ve taken to a whole different level).

But this is why my husband feels it is important for me to push through, and I quite agree with his reasoning. Driving into the parking lot alone is causing a resistance like none I have ever experienced. I do not want to be there. And that is precisely why my husband feels I need to be there. We will try this for a few months, but we cannot afford weekly therapy. We’ve done weekly for a year and just cannot afford it anymore. We will do every other week at this place, and see where my mental health is afterwards. If I deteriorate further (not sure how much more deterioration I must endure in order for a potential hospitalization, which will undoubtedly affect my career), we will then do everything in our power to get me into a psychiatrist and into a more intensive therapy.

After these sessions, I will do what I need to do to drive home. If I need to sit in the parking lot for a bit, that’s fine. If I need to bring my own juice boxes, I will. If I need to bring a snack to break the dissociation, I will. If I need to cry or call my husband, I will. It’s an hour drive so I will do what I need to do to make it home safely.

Therapist #1 is still available by scheduled phone calls. She is still there. I am not walking away myself, nor am I being abandoned. And yet I am still rapid cycling to an extent I can barely control. It’s time for me to cry a little before I teach my son to do front flips on his bed, or jump from his bed into a pile of blankets and pillows. This is better than being incapacitated, but my goodness. I am not a mother, I am a child! I am 7. I am 7.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

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Two weeks ago Thursday, I went to an intake (for Therapist #3) at a nationally recognized Christian counseling center. This was the first time I’ve ever shared my trauma out loud in one lump.

On my way back to my car after session, my heart was broken because of all I had talked about. Therapist #1 called me in the parking lot and I cried on the phone with her as I quickly processed the session. I had called her in the morning because I could not stop dissociating, and she was just returning my call.

I drove for about 10 minutes and felt a great need to pull over because I was dissociating. I floated in and out for 2.5 hours, barely remembering to reschedule my clients for the day. There was no way I was going to make it into work. I called my husband, but only because he left a voicemail telling me he was calling around to find out where I was.

When I was finally coherent enough to drive home, I saw that the car was off but out of gear. Was I really so incoherent that I couldn’t even park correctly? I somehow made it home with just enough time to pump (7 hours is a long time to go without nursing or pumping!) before heading out to my emergency session with Therapist #2.

It took nearly the entire session to ground me, but finally, a combination of a containment exercise and stomping my feet and hitting my hands on the sofa did the trick. That night, I emailed Therapist #1 to fill her in.

I do not understand why the Christian place struck such a sharp nerve for me, but nearly the same thing happened the following week when I attended my first session. It seems to me that I am in the depths of spiritual warfare, because I don’t dissociate like that with Therapist #1… but we rarely talk about faith, and she is not Christian. We have done a lot of work together, and I consider her to be safe. I love sessions with her, and always leave in a great mood, despite the difficult things we discuss in session.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

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A Lot Like Jonah

The following story is taken from this book, with a few changes.


God had a job for me. But I didn’t want it. “Go to Nineveh,” God said, “and tell your worst enemies that I love them.”

“NO” I said. “Those are bad people doing bad things!”

“Exactly,” said God. “They have run far away from me. But I can’t stop loving them. I will give them a new start. I will forgive them.”

“NO!” I said. “They don’t deserve it!”

I’ll run away! I said to myself. Far away- so far away that God won’t be able to find me. Then I won’t have to do what God says! It’s a good plan! I said, because, as far as I knew, it was a good plan.

But, of course, it wasn’t a good plan at all. It was a silly plan. (Because you can run away from God, but he will always come and find you.)

I went ahead with my not-very-good plan. “One ticket to NOT Nineveh, please!” I said and boarded a plane flying in the very opposite direction to Nineveh.

Well, it wasn’t long before a fierce wind blew, and my home started to lurch and pitch and roll – and everyone started turning green. I sat bolt upright in my bed. You see, the first thing that went wrong with my not-very-good plan was that God had sent a big storm after me.

My family couldn’t function properly. “We’re sinking!” they screamed, and started trying everything they could to calm the storm.

By now I knew that the storm was my doing. “Throw me in, instead!” I shouted to my family (for it seemed we were now on a feeble boat in a tumultuous storm). “And the storm will stop!” My family wasn’t sure. It’s the only way you can be saved!” I cried.

And so, one… two… three… SPLASH! No sooner had I hit the water than the waves grew calm, the wind died down, and the storm stopped.

Just then, when I thought it was all over, when I was sure I was going to drown, God sent a big fish to rescue me. The fish swallowed me whole- with one big gulp.

I must have thought I’d died, it was so dark in there, like a tomb. But then I smelled the rotting food and felt the slimy seaweed and knew I wasn’t dead. I was in the belly of the fish!

And here I sit, waiting to watch God’s plan unfold. Tonight, I have my first session with my new therapist, a Christian who will openly bring faith into the counseling room. We will see where the fish spits me out.

Undesired Effect of Forgiveness

dissociation 3

Dear (Abuser),

I forgive you. You are so wounded that I truly believe you don’t recall what you did to me. I forgive you for … I forgive you for … I forgive you because Jesus forgave my sins. I forgive you because

… and then I completely dissociated. I came to on my bed curled up shivering and tingling. The last thing I remember, I was in the rocking chair watching a video with my husband at his computer.

My husband suggested I start writing letters like this everyday, and forgiving my abusers everyday. He said I may not mean it at first but that eventually I would, because God would help heal my heart. I am trying this because I am desperate. My EMDR therapist said I am the only person she’s ever spoken to with complex trauma who wants to dive in head first and process trauma. I am trying anything and everything. My husband told me to try his way. This also includes an intake tomorrow at a nationally recognized Christian counseling center. I will continue to go to my regular therapist, but I will try this place for at least three sessions. My husband’s way is through talking openly about my faith, and bringing Christ into the therapy room… bringing Christ into my healing. I guess it’s time but talking forgiveness is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

This is the second time I dissociated today, but the first that rendered me completely without memory. The first time, I ended up curled up on the floor, and then I ate over half a can of this:

nutellaI have a terrible stomach ache

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