Peeling the Onion...
I had no idea how long my recovery would take, or how intense it would be. I discovered early on from my therapist (whom I shall now refer to as SG) that digging through the traumas and dealing with each one individually, was like peeling an onion; one extremely thin layer at a time.
The first day I walked into SG's office I told her I was having panic attacks and severe anxiety. I also told her I had 3 months to fix all of it because I was moving two hours away. She said there was no way to tell how long the healing process could take. She did mention that she had a patient who had PTSD from being in a bank at the time it was robbed. She worked with that patient for 6 weeks and sent her on her way. I held on to that 6 week number figuring I could be a new person in that length of time. It was doable and I was in a rush. HA! HA! The joke was on me. I was such a mess that within a few weeks of starting my therapy, it became necessary to see her twice each week. But she saved my life and my sanity. And most importantly, she totally got me. She understood everything I said, and VALIDATED me. No one in my entire life had ever validated me.
We needed to go back as far as I could remember to the earliest traumatic experiences, and why I never felt safe. All my life I had a fear of heights, open spaces where I felt like I needed to grab onto something for support, and highway/freeway driving especially if there was a bridge or a very steep hill. All of this relates back to traumatic events in my childhood where I was afraid, and rather than comforting me and consoling me both of my parents either got angry with me, or teased me. And if there was an incident when I wasn't with them, I was hard-pressed to get my mother to believe me. From a very early age she doubted everything I said. For example: age 4 1/2. I had a very difficult time adjusting to Kindergarten. I was a December baby, so I was the youngest in the class. I had severe separation anxiety, and I cried and sobbed every day for weeks on end. And in those days, Kindergarten was half a day, five days/week. My teacher Miss Kaufman was a mean old biddy. She had no patience for a child like me who disrupted the class with incessant sobbing. One day, she'd had enough. She stomped across the wood floor in her heels, grabbed me by the shoulders, and shook me violently. And as she shook me, she yelled, "Stop that crying right now, you hear me? Stop crying," grinding her teeth the whole time. When I got home, I told my mother what the teacher had done to me. My mother thought I made up the whole story and consequently did nothing about it. It was my very first experience feeling unsupported and unsafe. As I got older I came to understand that my mother was really a coward; completely spineless. She could no sooner defend herself, than defend her children because she had absolutely no backbone. But her narcissistic personality dictated to her that no one else's feelings mattered but her own.
Age 5: My parents took me to a small amusement park in Yonkers, NY, not too far from where we lived. It was called Wonderland. My father thought it would be a good idea to take me on the ferris wheel. We were buckled into a seat that rocked back and forth. The ferris wheel started to move, but when it reached the top it stopped to let others in on the bottom. I was convinced we were stuck up at the top, and I got hysterical. All the while my mother watched from the ground below. I cried and screamed bloody murder until they brought the ferris wheel down and let us off. No one comforted me; no one hugged me and told me it would be ok; no one told me it wasn't a big deal, or anything important. They were just angry that I made a spectacle and made me feel like a failure because I couldn't stay on the ride like other children.
In SG's office we worked through every layer of this onion, otherwise known as the ferris wheel trauma, using EMDR Therapy. It was so painful, because it took me back to the little girl who was so wounded. I had to learn how to treat "the little girl" inside of me the way I wished I had always been treated. I had to talk to her and be nice to her and support her, and most of all, I had to make her feel safe. I literally had to relive my childhood and give myself everything I had missed out on. Self-love was key here. And towards the end of that session, SG asked me what I would've liked my parents to say to me. My response: I wanted my mother to hug me tightly and say, "it's ok, Lisi (my nickname). The ferris wheel is just not that important and you don't have to go on it. I'm proud of you that you tried it. So don't be afraid anymore. Let's go get some ice cream." SG made me promise that after I left her office that day I would go get myself some ice cream. And I did.
My fear of heights came from this traumatic event of "getting stuck" on a ferris wheel. My self-preservation came from never being supported or made to feel safe in these instances. From a very early age I somehow understood that I was on my own. I needed to stand up for myself and protect myself, because I could not count on my mother.
My father's brother and his family lived about an hour away on Long Island. I liked to visit them and play with my cousins. To get there we needed to drive over a very big bridge--not as big as the Golden Gate!!! but big to a child of 8 or so. And each time we went, as I looked through the front windshield from the back seat while driving over the bridge, it looked like we were going to drive right into the water, because I couldn't see the other side of the bridge. This scared me. And I nervously would say I'm scared we are going into the water. My parents thought this was funny. They laughed every time. I was genuinely frightened. No one consoled me. No one comforted me or told me not to be afraid. Just like my ferris wheel experience. I felt foolish, and unsupported. And my mother got angry and poo-pooed my anxiety.
When I was about 20, my mother and I were driving over that same bridge to JFK to pick up my father. I was at the wheel, and on that bridge I had my first panic attack. I felt dizzy, my heart was racing, my hands were sweaty and I thought I might faint. But once I got over the bridge, it went away. No mystery as to why this happened, but at the time I was puzzled by it. And as time went on, I began to avoid any contact with any bridge, and eventually freeways, too. Local streets only. Avoidance became a way of life for me.
You got it. We spent countless therapy sessions peeling the layers of this onion, too. Helping and consoling the little girl no one seemed to care about, or understand.
There have been many traumas in my life. Each one needed to be addressed individually, peeling the layers slowly and deliberately. You can't cut the onion open all at once and think you're done. This is a process. And as time goes by, I will talk about other traumas, how they affected me throughout my life, and how I was able to deal with them and move past them. I will also discuss triggers and why they need to be dealt with as well. If you've had traumas in your life and/or are experiencing triggers, please feel free to contact me on my contact page. I'd like to help you take the first steps toward healing. Especially if you just want to talk to someone who understands and feels your pain. You can remain anonymous, or just include your first name. All conversations are confidential. You are not alone, and you can live a happy, productive, and joyous life.